Jewelry Journey Podcast podcast

Episode 138 Part 1: How Metalsmith Magazine Is Highlights New Voices in Jewelry with Editor, Adriane Dalton

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What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • The history of Metalsmith magazine, and why it maintains its name even as its scope has expanded beyond metals
  • How SNAG has made efforts to diversify the voices in Metalsmith and open the organization to new members
  • What type of content Adriane looks for as an editor, and how you can pitch ideas to her
  • What changes need to be made in the jewelry industry to make it more equitable
  • Why being a curator and being an editor aren’t so different

About Adriane Dalton

Adriane Dalton is an artist, writer, and educator based in Philadelphia, PA. She is the editor of Metalsmith, the magazine published by the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG). She was formerly the Assistant Curator and Exhibitions Manager at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art (NEHMA) in Logan, Utah, where she co-curated “ARTsySTEM: The Changing Climate of the Arts and Sciences” and taught History of American Studio Craft, among many other curatorial and educational projects. 

She holds an MA in the history of decorative arts and design from Parsons The New School for Design (2014), and a BFA in craft and material studies from the University of the Arts (2004). Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at Contemporary Craft (Pittsburgh, PA), The Wayne Art Center (Wayne, PA), Snyderman-Works Gallery (Philadelphia, PA), A CASA Museu de Object Brasileiro (Sao Paulo, Brazil), the Metal Museum (Memphis, TN), and Space 1026 (Philadelphia, PA).

Additional Resources:

SNAG Website

Adriane’s Instagram

Photos:

Recent Metal Smith Covers

Transcript:

Adriane Dalton took a meandering path to become editor of Metalsmith, the Society of North American Goldsmith’s (SNAG) quarterly magazine, but her background as a maker, her work as a curator, and her education in the history of craft has only helped her hone her editorial skills. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about the overlaps between making, curating and editing; what she looks for when selecting work for the magazine; and why it’s important we not just talk about objects and the people who make them, but the conditions in which people make them. Read the episode transcript here. 

Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. Today, my guest is Adriane Dalton, editor of Metalsmith Magazine published by SNAG, the Society of North American Goldsmiths. The publication is designed to keep makers, jewelers and other artists in the field informed about important issues and people in their creative field. Adriane, welcome to the program.

Adriane: Hi, it’s wonderful to be here.

Sharon: So glad to have you. I’m really looking forward to hearing all about this. I’ve been reading the magazine for so long. Tell us about your own jewelry journey. Were you a maker? How did you get into this? Did you come to it through journalism or the arts?

Adriane: I came to it through the arts. I do not have a journalism background. I actually have a BFA in craft and material studies from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, which is where I now live again after being in a lot of other places over the years. That craft and material studies program was my first introduction to jewelry making and to the contemporary jewelry field as we know it and as represented by SNAG and Metalsmith. Prior to that, I think my conception of jewelry was limited to the standard things you would see in the mall. That program was my gateway to the field.

Sharon: Is that what you wanted to do when you came to study crafts and material arts? Did you think you’d be doing jewelry? Were you going to do fine art?

Adriane: When I started undergrad, I had intended to be a photography major or potentially a glassblower. You have this first, foundational year of art school where you get to try different things out, and then you have to decide what your major is. I decided that in order to try to blow glass and work with my hands, I would need to be in the glass department. You couldn’t major in glass at the time, so you had to pick a different focus area and then you could take classes in the glass department. So, I became a jewelry major sort of incidentally. I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and making physical objects, so it ended up being a good fit for me. While I was there, I studied with Sharon Church, Rod McCormick and Lola Brooks, who were all teaching in the program at the time. That was my introduction to jewelry as an art form, not just as a piece of adornment.

Sharon: So, you weren’t third grade thinking, “I want to make jewelry.”

Adriane: No.

Sharon: When you graduated, were you making? How did it come about that you’re now editing a publication?

Adriane: It’s been a meandering path, honestly. I graduated with my BFA with a focus in jewelry and metals. I was interested in enameling, and I did a lot of enamel work. When I finished undergrad, I had a studio and I worked on some small production lines. I worked on one-of-a-kind work, but I also needed to have a job to support myself beyond that, and I found out very quickly that I didn’t like making production work. It wasn’t what I wanted to do to support myself or express myself creatively. For about eight years, I worked in an office job and had a studio space. I was involved in some community arts organizations here in Philadelphia and maintained my own creative practice during that time. 

It was almost 10 years after I had graduated from undergrad that I decided to go to grad school. I was interested in studying the field of craft more broadly, not just jewelry itself, so I enrolled in the joint program between Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York and Parsons. At the time, it was called History of Decorative Arts and Design. I believe the program is now History of Design and Curatorial Studies. I went into the program hoping to have a more formalized and research-based approach to thinking about craft.

Sharon: Wow! That must have been exciting to be in New York and studying at such premier schools. Were you going to do research? Did you want to go into museums? What did you think you might want to do?

Adriane: I was 30 at the time when I started grad school, and I had enough time after undergrad to figure out some of the things I didn’t want to do. I considered going and receiving an MFA. I toyed with that idea a bit, and I decided I wanted to try to have a career that would allow me to use my creative mind in the work, but that would hopefully feed into my creative practice in some way while also supporting me. I had a curatorial focus when I was in grad school, and I had some fellowships in the Cooper Hewitt Product Design and Decorative Arts Department under Sarah Coffin when she was still curator there; I think she’s since retired. I also was the jewelry intern under Alice Newman at the Museum of Arts and Design while I was in grad school. Those two experiences opened up possibilities for me to engage with the field in a way I hadn’t prior to grad school.

Sharon: Wow! Some really important people that were mentors or teachers. How did it come about that you’re now at Metalsmith Magazine?

Adriane: After grad school, I actually moved to Utah from New York, to a small town in northern Utah where I was the assistant curator of an art museum there, the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, which at the time had some exhibitions that were craft-centric. I came on to help with some of that. They have a fantastic ceramics collection. Ceramics is not my focus area, but having a broad generalization in craft, I can sort of move between materials. So, I was in Utah for a few years working as a curator. Then I moved back to the East Coast, to Richmond. I was working at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in their education department doing programming. 

The way I came to be the editor of Metalsmith was a fluke in a lot of ways. I had applied for a different position at SNAG at the time that was educationally focused. I had a couple of interviews, got along really well with the executive director at the time, Gwynne Rukenbrod Smith. A few months later, she reached out to me and said, “Hey, our editor, Emily Zilber, is leaving, and I need someone to come in on an interim basis and keep things going until we figure out what we are going to do with the position and the magazine. Is this something you’d be interested in and capable of?” I said, “Yes, sure.” I came on thinking it would be potentially a six-month arrangement and then I would go on doing museum education, which is what I was doing. It ended up working out and I was invited to stay on, and so here I am.

Sharon: Wow! Tell us about Metalsmith and what you want to do with it, what its purpose is, that sort of thing.

Adriane: Sure. Metalsmith is one program area of SNAG. For folks who are listening who may not be familiar with SNAG, SNAG is the Society of North American Goldsmiths. It’s a 50-year-old—well, I think it’s 51 years old now—organization that’s an international member-based organization. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Our member base is predominantly a variety of metalsmiths, jewelers, other folks who maybe don’t consider themselves jewelers but use the body as a flight for expression, production studio jewelry artists, teachers, historians, curators, collectors, gallerists and writers. Our member focus is North America, but we do have members and subscribers all over the world.

Metalsmith fits into SNAG in the sense that as a program area, it helps SNAG fulfill part of its mission statement, which is to advance the field of jewelry and metalsmithing and to inspire creativity, encourage education and foster community. Before it was Metalsmith, SNAG had three other publications. It started as a newsletter in the early days, and then it became Gold Dust. Then it was, I think, Goldsmith’s Journal. Metalsmith was established in 1980. So, we are now in our 41st year of publication.

Sharon: Did it become Metalsmith because—I’m a member of SNAG and I really like it, but I’ve only met maybe one goldsmith. Is that what happened there, going from Gold Dust to Metalsmith?

Adriane: I think so. I’m not privy to all the early decisions of how the magazine was established and run, but I think choosing Metalsmith was to be more inclusive of the field at that time. Now, of course, one of the critiques I hear sometimes from members and other folks in the field is that Metalsmith doesn’t always have that much metal in it.

Sharon: That’s true, yes.

Adriane: That is true. That is, I think, indicative of the shifts in interdisciplinarity and shifts in thinking about materials that are appropriate for these forms that have happened over the past 20 or 30 years in the field. There have been times when people have said, “Well, they should change the name to something else,” but it still fits in a lot of ways. The word “smith” in and of itself points to the action that is involved. For me and how I think about the magazine and the work that’s in the magazine, it doesn’t necessarily matter what the material is; it’s more about the approach and the context in which the maker is putting it out into the world.

Sharon: How are you choosing the subjects? There are so many different areas now. I think of plastics; I think of wood; I think about all different kinds of crafts and jewelry. How do you choose the issues and writers you put in the publication?

Adriane: I take pictures and proposals. Anyone listening to this podcast, anyone out there can send me an email or get in touch with me to propose any idea they have for an article or an artist they want to cover, things like that. It’s a combination of taking proposals from people who reach out to me and me seeking people out who I’m interested in their work or interested in their writing, or me finding someone who I think would be good to write about a particular artist’s work. It depends, and it’s a mishmash of those things. A misconception I try to dispel any chance I get, and will do so now, is that I have a glut of proposals coming in. Really, a lot of the time I don’t, particularly in the past 18 months. During the pandemic, people’s focus has been in other directions, as it should be, but it’s hard to keep things going if I have to do all the outreach and it’s not going in both directions like it should.

Sharon: I’m surprised; with everybody at home during lockdown, it seems like it would have been the perfect time for people to be writing or pitching or proposing or thinking about it at least.

Adriane: Yeah, it is a combination of things. I do have people who reach out to me who I may or may not be familiar with. I’m really interested in having voices in the magazine that are new to the field or are in the process of establishing themselves as a thinker in the field. One of the ways we have done that in the past two years was through a writing competition that we hosted during our 40th volume, which was the previous volume to the one that’s being published now. That was proposed to me by an artist and author, Lauren Eckert, who approached me at SNAG’s conference in Chicago, the last in-person conference we held. She said, “What do you think about having a writing contest to get new voices into the magazine?” and I said, “Oh, I think that that’s a great idea. Would you want to help me get that together?” She volunteered, and I invited Lauren to join the publication’s advisory committee, which is a sounding board and feedback board for the magazine. 

We ran the competition and had two awardees, and we published their writing in this most recent volume. In issue 41, we had Jessica Todd’s article “Restrung: Contemporary North American Beadsmiths.” In issue 42, we had “Difficult Adornments: Recontextualizing Creative Adornment Through Display” which was by Rebecca Schena. Jessica was the New Voices award winner and Rebecca was the runner up, but we couldn’t narrow it down to just one because there were so many great submissions. It was very hard to pick them. 

Sharon: In terms of issues, what issues are really close to you, important to you? What issues do you see in the field? It’s a few months old now, but I was looking at one of the publications about Black jewelers and inequality in the field, and I thought, “Well, that’s not a namby-pamby issue; it’s right out there and you’re not afraid to discuss those kinds of things.”

Adriane: Yeah, something that is important to me and has become extremely necessary as the world has shifted so much in the past 18 months is to not just create content in a vacuum, but to have the work and the voices in the magazine truly be representative of what is going on in the field. Some of that includes acknowledging ways the field of jewelry and metalsmithing replicates other systemic racist structures that exist in American society. To speak to the bigger picture for how I think about the content of the magazine—and this also predates the pandemic, but the pandemic has made me more firm in this—is that it’s important to not just talk about objects and the people who make them, but to talk about the conditions in which people make them. That is especially relevant now that the world has been the way it has been for the past 18 months and we are all more acutely aware of a lot of things than perhaps previously.

Sharon: That’s a good point, in terms of picking up a publication or going online and saying, “What are the pretty pictures?” or “What are the creative objects?” You also mentioned in one of your notes from the editor—it must be a challenge to come with that every month, in terms of pithy subjects—you wrote that for some, the process of growth is discomfort. How does that manifest itself? Do you see it manifesting in SNAG’s members, for example?

Adriane: I don’t know if I can speak to how it manifests for our members. I will say SNAG has a diverse membership. When I’m making the magazine, I’m making it not only for SNAG’s membership, but we also have some people who subscribe but aren’t SNAG members, and the magazine is on newsstands. So, I’m trying to think broadly whenever possible. As far as that particular letter from the editor, some of the content in that issue—which includes that essay by Rebecca Schena that I mentioned before—but it also includes the piece you alluded to, which is by Valena Robinson Grass, “Moving Beyond Acknowledgment: Systemic Barriers for Black American Metalsmiths.” There’s another article in there by Leslie Boyd about how white educators can be more attentive to the ways their students are showing up in the structure of academia. As I’m talking, I’m getting further and further away from answering your question, but—

Sharon: No, I don’t get that impression.

Adriane: I think that, much like a lot of other things that have happened in the past 18 months, there needs to be some amount of reflection and reckoning in parts of the jewelry field that have been predominantly white spaces and reflecting upon why that is, and thinking about how you can claim to value diversity and inclusivity and equity. You can say those things and you can mean them, but unless you’re willing to do the reflection and make some changes, then it’s meaningless; it’s empty.

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  • Jewelry Journey Podcast podcast

    Episode 138 Part 2: How Metalsmith Magazine Is Highlights New Voices in Jewelry with Editor, Adriane Dalton

    22:39

    What you’ll learn in this episode: The history of Metalsmith magazine, and why it maintains its name even as its scope has expanded beyond metals How SNAG has made efforts to diversify the voices in Metalsmith and open the organization to new members What type of content Adriane looks for as an editor, and how you can pitch ideas to her What changes need to be made in the jewelry industry to make it more equitable Why being a curator and being an editor aren’t so different About Adriane Dalton Adriane Dalton is an artist, writer, and educator based in Philadelphia, PA. She is the editor of Metalsmith, the magazine published by the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG). She was formerly the Assistant Curator and Exhibitions Manager at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art (NEHMA) in Logan, Utah, where she co-curated “ARTsySTEM: The Changing Climate of the Arts and Sciences” and taught History of American Studio Craft, among many other curatorial and educational projects.  She holds an MA in the history of decorative arts and design from Parsons The New School for Design (2014), and a BFA in craft and material studies from the University of the Arts (2004). Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at Contemporary Craft (Pittsburgh, PA), The Wayne Art Center (Wayne, PA), Snyderman-Works Gallery (Philadelphia, PA), A CASA Museu de Object Brasileiro (Sao Paulo, Brazil), the Metal Museum (Memphis, TN), and Space 1026 (Philadelphia, PA). Additional Resources: SNAG Website Adriane’s Instagram Photos: Recent Metal Smith Covers Transcript: Adriane Dalton took a meandering path to become editor of Metalsmith, the Society of North American Goldsmith’s (SNAG) quarterly magazine, but her background as a maker, her work as a curator, and her education in the history of craft has only helped her hone her editorial skills. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about the overlaps between making, curating and editing; what she looks for when selecting work for the magazine; and why it’s important we not just talk about objects and the people who make them, but the conditions in which people make them. Read the episode transcript here.  Sharon: What kinds of changes do you think? I don’t know, galleries representing more Black jewelers and jewelers of color? What kinds of changes do you mean? Talking about them in classes? Adriane: For that particular issue, that essay by Valena Robinson Glass and the essay by Leslie Boyd touch on some of the possibilities for how to address those things. I would encourage anyone who’s listening who hasn’t read that issue or isn’t familiar with it to go pick it up off your bookshelf or go purchase it from SNAG. There are a lot of ways you can be reflective. Some of it is as simple as trying to understand if you have a space where there are no Black, indigenous, or people of color in that space, whether you’re a galleries or an educator, what are the barriers to access for people, whether they’re economic or graphic? There are a lot of different things. I don’t know that I can say there are one-size-fits all solutions to these things, but I think it’s a matter of being reflective. Sharon: I know you’re the editor of the publication; you’re not speaking for SNAG itself, but what do you see SNAG doing to lower barriers? Adriane: I think some of the things SNAG has done have been done to create, for example—for our virtual conference, there were needs-based scholarships for folks to attend the conference if they had an economic barrier, which is one way SNAG has dealt with that. Because of us having canceled our conference last year, there’s been a lot of upheaval. We’re trying to get through and recover from the financial burden of having to cancel an annual conference, as many organizations have this past year.  One of the other things that has been done—and this started pre-pandemic—is changing how we define what it means to be a student. In the past, that was implied to mean a student of a four-year jewelry program. As most folks have probably noticed, there are fewer and fewer jewelry and metals programs in higher education in the U.S. than ever. So many programs have closed, and there have been a lot of community programs which have popped up, such as the Baltimore Jewelry Center, Smith Shop in Detroit, Brooks Metalworks, plus others. Then, of course, there are places like We Wield the Hammer and the Crucible in San Francisco. We’re trying to include anyone who’s taking classes in a community setting in this definition of student, offering lower rates for registrations for students, lower rates for student memberships and things like that. SNAG’s membership cost at this point is $99 annually, which I believe is less than it used to be. I feel like it used to be higher than that.  Sharon: I don’t remember. I get my renewal notice and I know I want to remain a member. Will there be a regular conference this year or next spring, do you think? Although who knows with the Delta variant.  Adriane: Right. There are plans for an in-person conference to happen in the spring of 2022 as it would normally, around Labor Day. I’m not involved in the conference planning, so I don’t know exactly what the plan is at this point, but I think there are some other things that SNAG has planned in the meantime. We have other virtual programming.  We’re going to be having a symposium in the fall in October. I believe it’s October 22-23. This is part of what will be an annual program that happens every fall in addition to the conference, and it will be virtual. I believe the title of that symposium program is “Tides and Waves.” Each year, we’ll have a different geographical focus throughout the world. I believe that is the focus for this coming symposium, which is happening this fall. I think it will have been announced by the time this comes up. Sharon: This fall being 2021? Adriane: Yeah, this fall being 2021. I think the geographical focus for this symposium is Eastern Asia. Sharon: Oh, wow, that will be interesting. I’m not a maker, and when I go to the conferences, I’m more focused on what people are showing, what’s different. I’m trying to remember the issues you’re talking about. It doesn’t seem like there have been many—maybe they haven’t been of much interest to me, but I haven’t heard these issues being discussed at the conferences as much as how you form a gold something, or whatever. I don’t know.  Adriane: You mean as far as conference sessions? Sharon: Sessions, yeah. Adriane: The last conference I attended was in Chicago. No, that’s not true; I attended our virtual conference, but when you’re working and the conference is happening and you’re trying to zip in and out of things and pay attention to everything, it’s all kind of a blur for me at this point, honestly. I think the most recent virtual conference dealt a little bit more with some of the things I was mentioning. For example, there was a panel that dealt with people who were makers or involved in the field in some way, but who also have a caretaking role, whether that’s mothering or something that. That also speaks to what I was mentioning before, thinking about not just what we make, but the conditions in which we make. That is a huge topic that hasn’t fully been addressed. How can you go to a residency and take a month or longer to do that when you have a small child—or not even a small child, a teenager—and do all of these things when you have some other person you have to care for? And of course, that disproportionately affects women in the field. I think one of the things that is great about an in-person conference but is much more difficult to have happen organically in a virtual setting, even now when we are accustomed to attending events virtually—and I love it; it’s great because I can be in San Francisco; I can be in New York; I can be in London, but I don’t have to leave my house. I just have to be awake at whatever time zone the event is happening in. But something that doesn’t happen at these things is the organic conversations you have in small groups at dinner or over drinks. For me as the editor, those are the conversations I’m really looking for. What are people talking about that we aren’t talking about more broadly, and how can we make space for that and bring that in? Sharon: That’s an interesting question. Yes, you do hear that as you’re having coffee with somebody or with a group. What’s on your plate that you’ve heard? Maybe it’s harder to hear that virtually, but something that you thought, “Oh, I want to investigate that more,” or “We need to do something about that, an article.” Adriane: Yeah, one very straightforward example is that during last year’s virtual New York City Jewelry Week, I spent the entire week, morning to night for seven days straight, glued to my computer. I was picking my laptop up and taking it into my kitchen when I made dinner. By the end of the week, I didn’t want to look at a screen again, but of course I had to. One of the presentations during New York City Jewelry Week last year was by Sebastian Grant— Sharon: He is? Adriane: Sebastian is a jewelry historian and teaches at Parsons - Cooper Hewitt. His presentation, which I believe was in concert with The Jewelry Library, was on looking at the history of Black jewelry artists from mid-century forward and trying to identify these makers and talk about their work and their stories that hadn’t been shared or acknowledged. In a lot of publications, there hasn’t been comprehensive publishing around some of these artists. After seeing his presentation, I reached out to him and asked if he would be interested in taking some of that research and sharing it in Metalsmith in a series of articles. So far, we’ve published two articles by Sebastian. That’s a very direct example of being engaged in the field in a virtual setting, hearing conversations that are going on—it was a presentation, but there was also a Q&A afterwards—and knowing this is something that needs to be given more space.  Sharon: It must be great to be in a position where you can say, “This needs to be addressed further” and do something about it, to literally create. I know you have people you consult with on that, but still, that’s very interesting. What other areas do you have in mind that are churning right now? Adriane: It’s hard to say. I can talk a little bit about the examples of things that have happened over the recent volume that fit these criteria. Looking forward, it’s a little harder because I’m just finishing up Volume 41—or getting ready to finish it up—and then Volume 42 will be starting. There’s a lot of planning, a lot of question marks and things that are penciled in that I’m hoping will be written in in pen shortly.  One of the examples that directly came out of attending the conference in Chicago, aside from that conversation I mentioned with Lauren Eckert which led to the New Voices Competition, was at—I forget what it was called—but basically, it was the exhibition room where everyone has their small pop-up exhibitions. There was an exhibition that was curated by Mary Raivel and Mary Fissell, who are both based in Baltimore and involved with the Baltimore Center. Their exhibition was called “Coming of Age,” and they were specifically interested in artists who had come to jewelry making or metalsmithing as a second career after having some other career first. I was really interested in that, because there’s the idea of the emerging artist as being someone who’s young and just out of school, just out of undergrad or just out of grad school. I think it’s a limiting way to think about where people are at in their creative process. I invited them to write about that exhibition, turn it into an article and talk about the interviews they did with the artists who applied to the show. We ran that in Volume 40, so it was the second issue of Volume 40 of Metalsmith. Sharon: That’s a really interesting subject. It’s so true; there are so many people who have come to jewelry making, whether it’s in metal or in plastic or whatever, after a career doing something else, when they said, “Hey, I’m done with this and I really want to do what I want do.” I know Art Jewelry Forum, when they started—I don’t know exactly where it ended up, but I know there was discussion in terms of age. Originally some of the grants being submitted had to do with age, and that really doesn’t tell you anything. Adriane: Right. That actually came up in that article. It’s been a while since I read it, so it’s not fresh in my mind, but I believe they interviewed someone from Art Jewelry Forum—maybe it was Yvonne—and they brought this up and talk about that. In the article, they talk about how people fall into this gap where they’re an age on paper where it seems like they should be mid-career artists, but they truly are emerging artists; it just may not seem that way if you know their age. I think it’s interesting, and the more we try to put—and this is true of all sorts of things—rigid parameters on something, I think we limit ourselves in whom we invite to participate in the field or be in these spaces with us. It leaves people out. Not everyone can graduate from high school and go straight into college and start a career as a bench jeweler or a production jeweler or conceptual artist. There are a lot of different factors that contribute to where a person is in their career and the work they’re making. Sharon: Yeah, that as well. What’s a student today? It’s an avocation. It may become their vocation eventually, but if they take a class at a community—I took a class at a jewelry school, and that’s all the metalsmithing I’ve done. I was thinking about how you, being a maker, how does that affect—do you think you could do your job as well if you weren’t a maker? Adriane: I don’t think I could do my job as well if I were not a maker who had a grounding in the processes and traditions of metalsmithing. As I was saying earlier, the field and the materiality of the field has shifted a lot. My undergraduate study in learning the basics of jewelry and metalsmithing is helpful for me as I’m looking at the way authors are writing about artists’ work. Not everyone who writes for the magazine is a maker or a jeweler, so there are some times when a term might come up, or someone might interpret a component of an object in a certain way. I, as someone who is a maker, and our readers often could look at that and say, “Well, I don’t think that’s quite right.” I then have the knowledge to write a note or an edit and say, “Hey, I think you might have this wrong. I think it’s vermeil and not actually gold.” I don’t think I would have that ability if I didn’t have a background as a maker. Sharon: That’s interesting. How do you find the journalism aspect? To me, what you’re doing—it’s both the combination of being a maker or jeweler and having the crafts background, but the journalism, not everybody could do that. Adriane: I don’t think about it in that way necessarily. Having a curatorial background, I think about the magazine more curatorially, I would say. Maybe there’s some overlap with the way someone with a journalism background would think about it, but because that is not my background and not my training, I don’t know. I think about what I’m doing as the editor as interpretative, in the way that if you are a curator and you’ve done research and you’re presenting a selection of artworks to the public, you have to contextualize them in some way. You have to make sure that the way that you’ve put things together, people can come into that space, whether it’s in a print publication or in a gallery space, and hopefully they can come away with the things that are apparent and the subtleties at the same time. That’s what I try to capture when I write my letter from the editor for every issue, which, as you alluded to earlier, sounds like a difficult task and it certainly is. Even though I have done a lot of writing, I’m always fussing with it and fussing with it and fussing with it up to the last minute. I want to make sure that when people read it, they get something out of it that isn’t just, “Here’s what’s in this issue.” Sharon: That’s interesting. Being an editor has so many similarities with being a curator. You’re culling through things and what goes with what and setting the context, which is what you definitely do in the note from the editor, and I’ll be thinking about them a little differently as I read more. I already look at them and think, “Oh, it’s so hard to express yourself.” You do a very good job, but they’re very weighty things you’re talking about. It’s not just, “Oh, we have pretty pieces of jewelry in this issue.” Adriane: Right. If that were the case, that would probably be all I had to say about it.  Sharon: That’s true; moving from here on to Vogue. Adriane: I don’t know about that. Sharon: Adriane, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. You’ve given us a lot to think about. I didn’t enter this conversation realizing it would be so thought-provoking. Thank you. It’s greatly, greatly appreciated. Adriane: That’s wonderful; thank you, and thank you for having me. This has been a fantastic conversation. Sharon: So glad to have you. We will have images posted on the website. You can find us wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. Please join us next time, when our guest will be another jewelry industry professional who will share their experience and expertise. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you again for listening. Please leave us a rating and review so we can help others start their own jewelry journey.  
  • Jewelry Journey Podcast podcast

    Episode 138 Part 1: How Metalsmith Magazine Is Highlights New Voices in Jewelry with Editor, Adriane Dalton

    22:10

    What you’ll learn in this episode: The history of Metalsmith magazine, and why it maintains its name even as its scope has expanded beyond metals How SNAG has made efforts to diversify the voices in Metalsmith and open the organization to new members What type of content Adriane looks for as an editor, and how you can pitch ideas to her What changes need to be made in the jewelry industry to make it more equitable Why being a curator and being an editor aren’t so different About Adriane Dalton Adriane Dalton is an artist, writer, and educator based in Philadelphia, PA. She is the editor of Metalsmith, the magazine published by the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG). She was formerly the Assistant Curator and Exhibitions Manager at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art (NEHMA) in Logan, Utah, where she co-curated “ARTsySTEM: The Changing Climate of the Arts and Sciences” and taught History of American Studio Craft, among many other curatorial and educational projects.  She holds an MA in the history of decorative arts and design from Parsons The New School for Design (2014), and a BFA in craft and material studies from the University of the Arts (2004). Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at Contemporary Craft (Pittsburgh, PA), The Wayne Art Center (Wayne, PA), Snyderman-Works Gallery (Philadelphia, PA), A CASA Museu de Object Brasileiro (Sao Paulo, Brazil), the Metal Museum (Memphis, TN), and Space 1026 (Philadelphia, PA). Additional Resources: SNAG Website Adriane’s Instagram Photos: Recent Metal Smith Covers Transcript: Adriane Dalton took a meandering path to become editor of Metalsmith, the Society of North American Goldsmith’s (SNAG) quarterly magazine, but her background as a maker, her work as a curator, and her education in the history of craft has only helped her hone her editorial skills. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about the overlaps between making, curating and editing; what she looks for when selecting work for the magazine; and why it’s important we not just talk about objects and the people who make them, but the conditions in which people make them. Read the episode transcript here.  Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. Today, my guest is Adriane Dalton, editor of Metalsmith Magazine published by SNAG, the Society of North American Goldsmiths. The publication is designed to keep makers, jewelers and other artists in the field informed about important issues and people in their creative field. Adriane, welcome to the program. Adriane: Hi, it’s wonderful to be here. Sharon: So glad to have you. I’m really looking forward to hearing all about this. I’ve been reading the magazine for so long. Tell us about your own jewelry journey. Were you a maker? How did you get into this? Did you come to it through journalism or the arts? Adriane: I came to it through the arts. I do not have a journalism background. I actually have a BFA in craft and material studies from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, which is where I now live again after being in a lot of other places over the years. That craft and material studies program was my first introduction to jewelry making and to the contemporary jewelry field as we know it and as represented by SNAG and Metalsmith. Prior to that, I think my conception of jewelry was limited to the standard things you would see in the mall. That program was my gateway to the field. Sharon: Is that what you wanted to do when you came to study crafts and material arts? Did you think you’d be doing jewelry? Were you going to do fine art? Adriane: When I started undergrad, I had intended to be a photography major or potentially a glassblower. You have this first, foundational year of art school where you get to try different things out, and then you have to decide what your major is. I decided that in order to try to blow glass and work with my hands, I would need to be in the glass department. You couldn’t major in glass at the time, so you had to pick a different focus area and then you could take classes in the glass department. So, I became a jewelry major sort of incidentally. I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and making physical objects, so it ended up being a good fit for me. While I was there, I studied with Sharon Church, Rod McCormick and Lola Brooks, who were all teaching in the program at the time. That was my introduction to jewelry as an art form, not just as a piece of adornment. Sharon: So, you weren’t third grade thinking, “I want to make jewelry.” Adriane: No. Sharon: When you graduated, were you making? How did it come about that you’re now editing a publication? Adriane: It’s been a meandering path, honestly. I graduated with my BFA with a focus in jewelry and metals. I was interested in enameling, and I did a lot of enamel work. When I finished undergrad, I had a studio and I worked on some small production lines. I worked on one-of-a-kind work, but I also needed to have a job to support myself beyond that, and I found out very quickly that I didn’t like making production work. It wasn’t what I wanted to do to support myself or express myself creatively. For about eight years, I worked in an office job and had a studio space. I was involved in some community arts organizations here in Philadelphia and maintained my own creative practice during that time.  It was almost 10 years after I had graduated from undergrad that I decided to go to grad school. I was interested in studying the field of craft more broadly, not just jewelry itself, so I enrolled in the joint program between Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York and Parsons. At the time, it was called History of Decorative Arts and Design. I believe the program is now History of Design and Curatorial Studies. I went into the program hoping to have a more formalized and research-based approach to thinking about craft. Sharon: Wow! That must have been exciting to be in New York and studying at such premier schools. Were you going to do research? Did you want to go into museums? What did you think you might want to do? Adriane: I was 30 at the time when I started grad school, and I had enough time after undergrad to figure out some of the things I didn’t want to do. I considered going and receiving an MFA. I toyed with that idea a bit, and I decided I wanted to try to have a career that would allow me to use my creative mind in the work, but that would hopefully feed into my creative practice in some way while also supporting me. I had a curatorial focus when I was in grad school, and I had some fellowships in the Cooper Hewitt Product Design and Decorative Arts Department under Sarah Coffin when she was still curator there; I think she’s since retired. I also was the jewelry intern under Alice Newman at the Museum of Arts and Design while I was in grad school. Those two experiences opened up possibilities for me to engage with the field in a way I hadn’t prior to grad school. Sharon: Wow! Some really important people that were mentors or teachers. How did it come about that you’re now at Metalsmith Magazine? Adriane: After grad school, I actually moved to Utah from New York, to a small town in northern Utah where I was the assistant curator of an art museum there, the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, which at the time had some exhibitions that were craft-centric. I came on to help with some of that. They have a fantastic ceramics collection. Ceramics is not my focus area, but having a broad generalization in craft, I can sort of move between materials. So, I was in Utah for a few years working as a curator. Then I moved back to the East Coast, to Richmond. I was working at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in their education department doing programming.  The way I came to be the editor of Metalsmith was a fluke in a lot of ways. I had applied for a different position at SNAG at the time that was educationally focused. I had a couple of interviews, got along really well with the executive director at the time, Gwynne Rukenbrod Smith. A few months later, she reached out to me and said, “Hey, our editor, Emily Zilber, is leaving, and I need someone to come in on an interim basis and keep things going until we figure out what we are going to do with the position and the magazine. Is this something you’d be interested in and capable of?” I said, “Yes, sure.” I came on thinking it would be potentially a six-month arrangement and then I would go on doing museum education, which is what I was doing. It ended up working out and I was invited to stay on, and so here I am. Sharon: Wow! Tell us about Metalsmith and what you want to do with it, what its purpose is, that sort of thing. Adriane: Sure. Metalsmith is one program area of SNAG. For folks who are listening who may not be familiar with SNAG, SNAG is the Society of North American Goldsmiths. It’s a 50-year-old—well, I think it’s 51 years old now—organization that’s an international member-based organization. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Our member base is predominantly a variety of metalsmiths, jewelers, other folks who maybe don’t consider themselves jewelers but use the body as a flight for expression, production studio jewelry artists, teachers, historians, curators, collectors, gallerists and writers. Our member focus is North America, but we do have members and subscribers all over the world. Metalsmith fits into SNAG in the sense that as a program area, it helps SNAG fulfill part of its mission statement, which is to advance the field of jewelry and metalsmithing and to inspire creativity, encourage education and foster community. Before it was Metalsmith, SNAG had three other publications. It started as a newsletter in the early days, and then it became Gold Dust. Then it was, I think, Goldsmith’s Journal. Metalsmith was established in 1980. So, we are now in our 41st year of publication. Sharon: Did it become Metalsmith because—I’m a member of SNAG and I really like it, but I’ve only met maybe one goldsmith. Is that what happened there, going from Gold Dust to Metalsmith? Adriane: I think so. I’m not privy to all the early decisions of how the magazine was established and run, but I think choosing Metalsmith was to be more inclusive of the field at that time. Now, of course, one of the critiques I hear sometimes from members and other folks in the field is that Metalsmith doesn’t always have that much metal in it. Sharon: That’s true, yes. Adriane: That is true. That is, I think, indicative of the shifts in interdisciplinarity and shifts in thinking about materials that are appropriate for these forms that have happened over the past 20 or 30 years in the field. There have been times when people have said, “Well, they should change the name to something else,” but it still fits in a lot of ways. The word “smith” in and of itself points to the action that is involved. For me and how I think about the magazine and the work that’s in the magazine, it doesn’t necessarily matter what the material is; it’s more about the approach and the context in which the maker is putting it out into the world. Sharon: How are you choosing the subjects? There are so many different areas now. I think of plastics; I think of wood; I think about all different kinds of crafts and jewelry. How do you choose the issues and writers you put in the publication? Adriane: I take pictures and proposals. Anyone listening to this podcast, anyone out there can send me an email or get in touch with me to propose any idea they have for an article or an artist they want to cover, things like that. It’s a combination of taking proposals from people who reach out to me and me seeking people out who I’m interested in their work or interested in their writing, or me finding someone who I think would be good to write about a particular artist’s work. It depends, and it’s a mishmash of those things. A misconception I try to dispel any chance I get, and will do so now, is that I have a glut of proposals coming in. Really, a lot of the time I don’t, particularly in the past 18 months. During the pandemic, people’s focus has been in other directions, as it should be, but it’s hard to keep things going if I have to do all the outreach and it’s not going in both directions like it should. Sharon: I’m surprised; with everybody at home during lockdown, it seems like it would have been the perfect time for people to be writing or pitching or proposing or thinking about it at least. Adriane: Yeah, it is a combination of things. I do have people who reach out to me who I may or may not be familiar with. I’m really interested in having voices in the magazine that are new to the field or are in the process of establishing themselves as a thinker in the field. One of the ways we have done that in the past two years was through a writing competition that we hosted during our 40th volume, which was the previous volume to the one that’s being published now. That was proposed to me by an artist and author, Lauren Eckert, who approached me at SNAG’s conference in Chicago, the last in-person conference we held. She said, “What do you think about having a writing contest to get new voices into the magazine?” and I said, “Oh, I think that that’s a great idea. Would you want to help me get that together?” She volunteered, and I invited Lauren to join the publication’s advisory committee, which is a sounding board and feedback board for the magazine.  We ran the competition and had two awardees, and we published their writing in this most recent volume. In issue 41, we had Jessica Todd’s article “Restrung: Contemporary North American Beadsmiths.” In issue 42, we had “Difficult Adornments: Recontextualizing Creative Adornment Through Display” which was by Rebecca Schena. Jessica was the New Voices award winner and Rebecca was the runner up, but we couldn’t narrow it down to just one because there were so many great submissions. It was very hard to pick them.  Sharon: In terms of issues, what issues are really close to you, important to you? What issues do you see in the field? It’s a few months old now, but I was looking at one of the publications about Black jewelers and inequality in the field, and I thought, “Well, that’s not a namby-pamby issue; it’s right out there and you’re not afraid to discuss those kinds of things.” Adriane: Yeah, something that is important to me and has become extremely necessary as the world has shifted so much in the past 18 months is to not just create content in a vacuum, but to have the work and the voices in the magazine truly be representative of what is going on in the field. Some of that includes acknowledging ways the field of jewelry and metalsmithing replicates other systemic racist structures that exist in American society. To speak to the bigger picture for how I think about the content of the magazine—and this also predates the pandemic, but the pandemic has made me more firm in this—is that it’s important to not just talk about objects and the people who make them, but to talk about the conditions in which people make them. That is especially relevant now that the world has been the way it has been for the past 18 months and we are all more acutely aware of a lot of things than perhaps previously. Sharon: That’s a good point, in terms of picking up a publication or going online and saying, “What are the pretty pictures?” or “What are the creative objects?” You also mentioned in one of your notes from the editor—it must be a challenge to come with that every month, in terms of pithy subjects—you wrote that for some, the process of growth is discomfort. How does that manifest itself? Do you see it manifesting in SNAG’s members, for example? Adriane: I don’t know if I can speak to how it manifests for our members. I will say SNAG has a diverse membership. When I’m making the magazine, I’m making it not only for SNAG’s membership, but we also have some people who subscribe but aren’t SNAG members, and the magazine is on newsstands. So, I’m trying to think broadly whenever possible. As far as that particular letter from the editor, some of the content in that issue—which includes that essay by Rebecca Schena that I mentioned before—but it also includes the piece you alluded to, which is by Valena Robinson Grass, “Moving Beyond Acknowledgment: Systemic Barriers for Black American Metalsmiths.” There’s another article in there by Leslie Boyd about how white educators can be more attentive to the ways their students are showing up in the structure of academia. As I’m talking, I’m getting further and further away from answering your question, but— Sharon: No, I don’t get that impression. Adriane: I think that, much like a lot of other things that have happened in the past 18 months, there needs to be some amount of reflection and reckoning in parts of the jewelry field that have been predominantly white spaces and reflecting upon why that is, and thinking about how you can claim to value diversity and inclusivity and equity. You can say those things and you can mean them, but unless you’re willing to do the reflection and make some changes, then it’s meaningless; it’s empty. We will have images posted on the website. You can find us wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. Please join us next time, when our guest will be another jewelry industry professional who will share their experience and expertise. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you again for listening. Please leave us a rating and review so we can help others start their own jewelry journey.
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    Episode 137: Part 2 - Tess Sholom: From the Runways of Paris to the Goldsmith’s Studio with Goldsmith Tess Sholom

    21:28

    What you’ll learn in this episode: What it was like to design jewelry for high-fashion runways in the 70s and 80s How the right piece of jewelry can transform the wearer  Why creative problem solving is the best skill you can have as a goldsmith How Tess’ work wound up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution and other museums How the jewelry field has changed with the popularization of social media Additional Resources: Website Instagram Facebook Photos: Blue Sky Chalcedony Byzantium Earrings Byzantium Necklace Circes Circle Necklace Illusion Necklace  Ionian Necklace  Its A Wrap Necklace Naiad Necklace About Tess Sholom Warm and malleable but also strong and enduring, gold shines with the spirit of life itself. For designer and jeweler Tess Sholom, gold is both medium and muse. Tess Sholom began her jewelry career in fashion jewelry in 1976, designing pieces that appeared on the runways of Karl Lagerfeld, Oscar de la Renta and James Galanos, and the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Her fashion work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, Museum of the City of New York, the Racine Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and other museums. After two successful decades in fashion jewelry, she trained as a goldsmith and fell under the spell of high-karat gold. She decided to stop designing high-volume fashion jewelry and begin again as a hands-on studio artist, creating one-of-a-kind 22k gold jewelry in the workshop. Tess Sholom always had an eye for accessorizing, but she didn’t realize it would lead her to a long and fruitful career as a jewelry designer. While working as a cancer researcher, a long-shot pitch to Vogue opened the door to a 30-year career as a jewelry designer for fashion runways. Her latest career move was opening Tess Sholom Designs, where she creates one-of-a-kind, high-karat gold pieces. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about how she designed jewelry for Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass and Karl Lagerfeld; why problem solving is the thread that runs through all her careers; and how she plays on gold’s timeless, mystical quality in her work. Read the episode transcript here. Sharon: Yes, when I see kids on their phones, I’m like, “Oh my god!” When you see kids who speak a language you’re trying to learn, it’s amazing. Do you find that you get a response from Instagram and other social media?   Tess: I do, yeah. It’s amazing. Especially the past year, when everyone was pretty much isolated, it made a big difference. People are now getting accustomed to Amazon; everybody buys things through Amazon. When you want to find something, people say, “Oh, why don’t you look on Amazon?” We have become this very immediate culture. We want things immediately so you don’t have to go out of your house. You just click the computer and get what you want.   Sharon: Very true. The Metropolitan Museum has what looks like a large collection of your designs for the runway and fashion jewelry. How did that come about?   Tess: I’m trying to remember. It was after the curator had taken my work for the Museum of the City of New York. I don’t remember, but I do remember spending an entire summer with my assistant giving everything a provenance. It took a long time to document everything because it had to be very specific. I think part of the reason why they have such a large collection is when the Brooklyn Museum of Art was renovating, they transferred some of their collection to the Met, I believe, and they just kept it in their archives.   Sharon: If you’re researching online, there’s a lot there. It’s interesting to see the designers that the pieces were done for. As I was surfing and trying to get some background, how do you feel when you come across a piece of yours on eBay that you made in the 80s? How do you feel about that?   Tess: I love the fact that it still there. It’s wonderful. I’m very pleased, and of course I’m amazed to see how much it’s increased in value. On eBay, it goes for a lot more than I sold it 30 years ago. To go back and see that something that I made 30, 40 years ago is still relevant means so much. One of the worries of becoming an older person is if I am going to stay relevant, and it’s very gratifying to see people are still purchasing something I made many years ago. It’s interesting because it makes it timeless, even though it was made for a particular season; it was made either for a fall collection or a spring collection. 40 years later, somebody still wants it and it’s still relevant. It’s in a way timeless, and that’s very gratifying to me.   Sharon: I can see how that would be validating.   Tess: It’s excellent.    Sharon: Is that something you think about when you’re making your current pieces, about whether somebody’s going to be looking?   Tess: That’s interesting. No, it never occurred to me because jewelry is problem solving. It’s like a meditation because you must think about what you’re doing, especially if you’re using an acetylene torch. One second of inattention and it’s gone. You have a lump of gold, which is very beautiful in itself, but not quite what you wanted. I’m thinking about what problems are presenting themselves while I’m making the piece, and they do. It’s your vision coming to light. That’s one thing, but it’s a lot of overcoming obstacles. I’m working with a metal; I’m working with a flame, and they each have their own characteristics and their own minds, and I have to cooperate with all that. So, that’s very interesting. I don’t think about that. I just think about the piece I’m making and how I’m going to do the best I can. I have a lot of reverence for the material I’m using and I want to do it justice, so my focus is on trying to do the best I can while I’m working. I never thought about that before.   Sharon: Do you design your pieces? I think of a pencil and paper. Do you sketch out a design before you start?   Tess: Often I do that, but sometimes if I’m sculpting with gold, I have an idea of what I want and I just try to coax the metal to melt in the way I want it to. That’s a lot of fun because you never know what’s going to happen. Sometimes it’s just that lucky accident that happens.    My inspirations have come from everywhere. I remember once Bill Blass called me into his office and said, “I’m going to do roses for my spring collection and I’d like you to do something to go along with that.” I thought, “Roses, oh my, I don’t want to do anything representational.” I was leaving for a ski trip with husband. While I was skiing and I was on the slopes, this Greek song came to mind about roses. The word in Greek for rose is “30 petals” and I thought, “Oh, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll do a distillation of the rose. I’ll do three petals,” and I did. I did a bracelet that had three petals that were fanned out but connected at the base, and a necklace and earrings that way. I showed it to Bill who said, “Well, it doesn’t look a rose, but I love it,” and he ordered 60 pieces of it in brass, nickel, copper and also in Lucite.    Often my inspiration is from nature. I never walk through the park—I walk through the park a lot—without seeing something that I want to translate into gold. The idea is flowers and leaves are ephemeral. That’s it. They give us lots of joy when they’re here, but then to capture them in gold is wonderful because that makes them last longer. So, my inspiration comes from nature as well, but it can be a thought; it can be a song; it can be the way a banister curves. I don’t know.   Sharon: As you’re working, is the vision in your head? Are you saying, “That’s not the way I drew it out or did it on the computer”?   Tess: Yes, that happens a lot. It happens a lot that it doesn’t translate. Paper and pencil are very different from three-dimensional things. So, it happens a lot, and if I don’t like it then I start again. But often I do like it.   Sharon: Are people ordering commissions from you, or are they ordering straight from your website or Instagram? How is that working?   Tess: They do both. They either buy what they see or—and this is very gratifying—people will bring me their old pieces that have sentimental value. They don’t want to get rid of them, but they are not their style; they’re not attractive. I usually remake them. I redesign them. I like that because there’s something about the energy of someone else having worn this. It becomes a legacy, but it’s still my expression.   Sharon: That must be a lot of fun.   Tess: It is. I had an aunt when I was a young child who would send me jewelry from Greece. She would say to me, “I wore it before giving it to you because I want my energy to go with it,” and I’ve never forgotten that.   Sharon: There is that energy. It’s also a testament to you because you walk down the street and so many jewelry stores say, “Bring us your old pieces and remake them.” They’re looking for something they know only you can deliver on that remake.   Tess: Yes, they want me to do it in my expression. The jewelry stores do very beautiful work, obviously, but they’re not always very customized or individual or taking you into consideration.   Sharon: And that was exactly the question I was going to ask. Are you working side-by-side in a sense with the person who asks you for something?   Tess: Absolutely. Of course it’s my expression because that’s why they came to me, but I never impose something. It has to be something we mutually agree on and is going to work.   Sharon: Have you ever made something that somebody said, “Oh, that’s not what I had in mind at all”?   Tess: No.   Sharon: Well, that’s a pretty good track record. When you were working on the runway, like you were talking about the rose theme, did each model on the runway have a Lucite rose and one had a silver rose?   Tess: Yeah, it was like that. The trick also was that I was working with a number of designers for the same season. I had to be very careful not to have one look like the other, which wasn’t difficult because they were all different looks. When I was doing Galanos and Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta and Giorgio di Sant'Angelo all in the same season, that all had to look different, and it did because they had different personalities and their clothes were different.   Sharon: Did you ever have anybody say—no names, but “If you’re doing work for John Smith, then I really—"   Tess: No, no one ever said that to me.   Sharon: Are you selling now to stores? Tell us about your business today, Tess Sholom Designs.   Tess: I have been approached by a former buyer at Bergdorf’s who would like to introduce me to the buyer now. So, we’ll see. I haven’t tried to do retail yet because it’s different, but they’re willing to do one-of-a-kind. As long as someone is willing to do one-of-a-kind, it’s different. In the past, retail wanted the whole story; they wanted multiples, but retail has changed. That’s one thing, but the other thing is I mostly do private sales like events.   Sharon: Is it mostly word of mouth? Besides social media, let’s say if you’re doing a private event in New York, how are they hearing about you?   Tess: Right. I have a salesperson and a media person who scouts out these things for me.   Sharon: Wow! That’s great. That must be very gratifying to meet people and talk to them about your pieces, give them your take on them.   Tess: That’s one of the best parts of this, aside from the joy of making the jewelry: dealing with a customer who loves the jewelry and who loves how it makes them feel. Jewelry can really be transformative. It enhances your essence. It’s beautiful so it reflects your beauty. People respond to that, and that’s extremely gratifying. I had a customer once who said to me that normally when she goes to a restaurant, she gets up to go the powder room and she walks through the space with her head down. One night she was wearing my necklace, and she said she put her head up and walked to the bathroom, the walkway she had to go through, and she felt wonderful. That made me feel good because it did something for her. It’s not superficial. Jewelry is not superficial. As I said before, it can be transformative. It can be commemorative. It can make you happy; it can enhance you, make you feel good about yourself.   Sharon: Yes, it can definitely make you happy.   Tess: I remember once I was selling to a banker and his wife in Luxembourg. He’s looking at me and he’s looking at his wife wearing her earrings, looking back and forth, and I said to him, “I understand your dilemma. You know a lot about finance. You don’t know anything about pearls. What you need to know at this point is does your wife feel beautiful wearing the pearls?”    Sharon: And that was a sale.   Tess: That was a sale because that was all it needed to be. He wasn’t buying an estate, and he wasn’t putting down his mortgage for the earrings. Obviously, they were good quality; that’s not the issue, but I gave him permission to look at what the reality is. The reality is does jewelry make you feel good? It did, and it was reasonable. His wife liked it, and he was happy that he could make his wife happy.   Sharon: That’s a great way to look at it. Does your wife feel beautiful or does the person feel good in it?   Tess: Right.   Sharon: At one of these trunk shows, did you ever have a prospect or somebody looking at your jewelry and as they put it on, you just said, “No, that doesn’t work”?   Tess: Yes, because part of my job is to pair the right piece of jewelry with the customer. That’s more important. Even if they walk away with nothing, it’s more important to get something that’s right for them than not. I do remember an instance when I was at a trunk show years ago in Texas. A woman walked in with her daughter, a long, beautiful, slim girl, and her mother said, “Do you have anything for this strange, long body?” And I said, “Half of the world wants to look like this. Yes.” I saw the girl looking at these thin belts, and I said, “Why don’t you try this on?” It was a big, bold brass belt. I watched her as she put it on and looked at herself in the mirror, and you could see the changeover. She was so surprised. She was amazed, but it was the right thing for her. It was totally different from anything she had worn or chosen before. It was right for her and it made me feel good.   Sharon: It sounds like you have a natural eye for that. I have interior designer friends who can walk into a room and say, “If you remove that table over there,” whereas I would never think about it.   Tess: Right, I guess it helps to have that eye. I love what I do, so I want it to be shown off to its best. The person and the jewelry enhance each other. It’s the right thing.   Sharon: Well, it sounds like the buyer has the right person, the right advice, the right eye with you looking at them.   Tess: We share an interest. Obviously, we both love jewelry. The customer comes in because she loves jewelry and I love it, so we’ve already got a good meeting ground.   Sharon: I’m curious; this is an off-the-wall question perhaps, but do you see any similarities between what you were doing with cancer research early on, or botany and biology, and what you do now? Does any of this reflect in terms of your personality?    Tess: I’m trying to think about your question. It always comes down to problem solving. There’s always something; it’s either a puzzle that needs to be fitted or an obstacle that needs to be overcome. Those are skills that are transferrable from one line of work to another, being able to find the answer. There’s always a question. There’s an obstacle, sometimes, for the aura of gold to be achieved. So, the ability to think around something and to think out of the box, that’s the thread that runs through all of my careers.   Sharon: That was the key word I was thinking of, the thread. That was exactly the word that came to mind. Tess, thank you very much. This is very interesting, and you have an interesting journey. Thank you for sharing with us. We really appreciate it.   Tess: My pleasure.   Sharon: So glad to have you.   We will have images posted on the website. You can find us wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. Please join us next time, when our guest will be another jewelry industry professional who will share their experience and expertise. Thank you so much for listening.   Thank you again for listening. Please leave us a rating and review so we can help others start their own jewelry journey.    
  • Jewelry Journey Podcast podcast

    Episode 137: Part 1 - Tess Sholom: From the Runways of Paris to the Goldsmith’s Studio with Goldsmith Tess Sholom

    22:08

    What you’ll learn in this episode: What it was like to design jewelry for high-fashion runways in the 70s and 80s How the right piece of jewelry can transform the wearer  Why creative problem solving is the best skill you can have as a goldsmith How Tess’ work wound up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution and other museums How the jewelry field has changed with the popularization of social media Additional Resources: Website Instagram Facebook Photos: Blue Sky Chalcedony Byzantium Earrings Byzantium Necklace Circes Circle Necklace Illusion Necklace  Ionian Necklace  Its A Wrap Necklace Naiad Necklace About Tess Sholom Warm and malleable but also strong and enduring, gold shines with the spirit of life itself. For designer and jeweler Tess Sholom, gold is both medium and muse. Tess Sholom began her jewelry career in fashion jewelry in 1976, designing pieces that appeared on the runways of Karl Lagerfeld, Oscar de la Renta and James Galanos, and the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Her fashion work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, Museum of the City of New York, the Racine Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and other museums. After two successful decades in fashion jewelry, she trained as a goldsmith and fell under the spell of high-karat gold. She decided to stop designing high-volume fashion jewelry and begin again as a hands-on studio artist, creating one-of-a-kind 22k gold jewelry in the workshop. Tess Sholom always had an eye for accessorizing, but she didn’t realize it would lead her to a long and fruitful career as a jewelry designer. While working as a cancer researcher, a long-shot pitch to Vogue opened the door to a 30-year career as a jewelry designer for fashion runways. Her latest career move was opening Tess Sholom Designs, where she creates one-of-a-kind, high-karat gold pieces. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about how she designed jewelry for Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass and Karl Lagerfeld; why problem solving is the thread that runs through all her careers; and how she plays on gold’s timeless, mystical quality in her work. Read the episode transcript here.  Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. Today, my guest is Tess Sholom. Many of you may have been aware of her fabulous statement pieces she designed for the runway, or you may have drooled over the pieces without knowing who the designer was. Today, she has taken a different path and is now both a designer and a jeweler in high-karat gold. She operates Tess Sholom Designs. We’ll hear all about that today, her whole jewelry journey and about what she’s doing. Tess, welcome to the program.   Tess: Thank you. It’s good to be here.   Sharon: So glad to have you. Tell us about your jewelry journey. It must be an interesting one, because you’ve covered a lot of different areas.   Tess: It has covered a lot of different areas, and it’s been on for a long time. When I graduated college, I actually went into cancer research. I was working in a laboratory and found that I didn’t like the isolation, so I went to Physicians and Surgeons Medical Center for a year to become a physical therapist. That I liked; solving problems, helping people.    Then, the year I married my husband in 1976, we were invited to a wedding in the woods. We were told to wear jeans because we were going to be in the woods and rolling around in the woods, and I thought, “This is awful. A wedding? This is when I try to get all dressed up in my best, and I’m wearing jeans?” But I complied. I bought a pretty gauze top; they were in style in the 70s. I made a necklace of beads and seeds and ribbons, and I made a belt to go with it. At the wedding, people kept saying, “That’s beautiful. Where did you get it?” Every time I said I made it, they would say, “Well, you should be doing this professionally.” It’s crazy. It put a bug in my ear, and I’ve always been like that. When a path presents itself, I say, “O.K., let’s try this. Let’s try it. Let’s see what’ll happen.”   Sharon: I love that.   Tess: And so, I did. I started walking around looking in stores to see how necklaces were finished. What were the clasps like? Within a month, I took a couple of things to Vogue Magazine. They gave me an instant credit; they gave me an editorial credit right away. Saks Fifth Avenue bought that necklace, and it was featured as an editorial credit in the magazine. That’s how I started. Within a very short time, Vogue Magazine called me and said, “Oscar de la Renta is looking for a jeweler to make jewelry for his runway.” After that, it just kept growing and growing. One designer, Bill Blass, saw my work in Women’s Wear Daily and he got in touch with me; Giorgio di Sant'Angelo and on and on. Karl Lagerfeld sent his secretary to meet me in New York, and then I went to Paris and collaborated with him on one of his shows. I designed jewelry for that show.   Sharon: Did you turn around and go, “Oh my god! Look what I’m doing now”?   Tess: It was like having the tiger by the tail, seriously. I hadn’t planned it. Adornment is old. It’s probably the first attempt at art that man ever made, to separate his body with berry dyes, with beads, with leaves. It’s a very old idea, adornment, and I’ve always felt the picture was not quite finished unless you were accessorizing. It ultimately was natural for me to think about making jewelry to complement a look, an action look, a closing look.   Sharon: I can imagine the peasant blouse you had in that era, but you actually said, “Oh, I need something,” and you made it yourself. I would have just said, “Oh, it needs something,” and gone through my closet or gone without anything.   Tess: That’s interesting. I guess what makes me a maker—from the time I was little, my mother brought me up with the housewifely arts. One of them was embroidery. I learned to use my hands early, and I was always changing things around.  If I had a garment and I didn’t like the way it looked, I just changed it. I would put a stitch here, a stitch there. I broke apart some costume jewelry beads of pearls at Claire’s and sewed them on a sweater because I wanted that look. I’ve always done that. I’ve always done things with my hands making things.   Sharon: Would you say you were artistic from a young age? Besides knowing how to do this, were you creative? It sounds like you were.   Tess: I was creative, but my family was focused on medicine, lawyers, doctors, that kind of thing. They did not think I was artistic. They thought I was a little fussy because I wanted things to look the way I wanted them to look. They didn’t really think of me as an artist.    Sharon: You studied what, biology in college?   Tess: I went to Barnard and I had a bachelor’s degree. My major was in science. It was botany, but I had just as many credits in fine arts, actually. That should have given me a hint, but I was focused on science. That’s where I wanted to be, but it turned out no, I did not like the isolation of a lab.   Sharon: I can understand that. Were you going full time? It seems like there was quite a swath of your career where you were doing jewelry for the runway. Did you do that full time for different designers for a while?   Tess: While I was doing that, I was also supplying boutiques and department stores. I started this in 1976 and very soon, I realized once again that I was alone. I looked in Vogue Magazine to see who else was doing this kind of jewelry, because it was different. High-fashion costume jewelry was very different from the prestigious houses, Monet, Coraux, Trifari. They made beautiful costume jewelry that to this day lasts, but our expression was quite different.    I found a number of other designers in the city who were doing the same thing more or less that I was. We got together and formed an association called the Fashion Accessories Designers Association, called FADA. My husband used to tease me and say, “You’re the mada of FADA,” but we were all entrepreneurs from some other place. One was a court stenographer; one was a potter; one was a knitter, but we all made accessories. So, we formed this organization and sold to the same places, so that we had an ability to protect ourselves a little. Sometimes the big stores would try to take advantage, and because we were all selling to the same people, we were able to defend ourselves.   Sharon: That’s very smart. How did you ferret the people out? How did you find these other people?   Tess: I looked in the back of Vogue Magazine. Wherever I saw a credit that looked more or less like the expression that I was doing, I would look them up and get in touch with them.    Sharon: I want to talk to you more about this, but I want to hear how you got into—now you make things in high-karat gold and precious, not diamonds and stuff, but nice gems, colorful gems. How did you get into making and goldsmithing?   Tess: I had a desire. I always had this desire to have my collection in a museum and to be recognized by a museum. It was a goal of mine somehow, but I never knew what to do about it. However, quite accidentally, the business began to change. The designers were not using accessories so much, so I began to shift my focus towards making sterling silver tea sets and boxes, because I was trying to make sure that if in fact the jewelry did begin to lessen, I would have some other outlet. At that time, someone came to my house for tea and saw a silver tea set. She was a curator from the Museum of the City of New York, and it was fascinating to see her expression. If you remember the scene in Julius Caesar where he’s offered the crown, he wants it; he refuses it, but he’s reaching for it. I saw that same kind of reaction from this lady who was looking at my tea set. Finally, she asked me for it for the museum. It was their first sterling silver acquisition of the 20th century.   Sharon: Did you make it or did you design it?   Tess: I designed it and it was made in my factory by my head metalworker. By this point, I had 20 employees. I literally had a tiger by the tail, because as an entrepreneur, I started out on my tabletop and eventually had to keep moving because I kept increasing. So, that was the first acquisition. I don’t quite remember how the Metropolitan Museum of Art got to me, but they came to me. The Brooklyn Museum of Art came to me, the Museum at FIT. There were a couple of museums in the Midwest that some clients donated to.    That got me thinking about my jewelry as art. I took a couple of courses at Jewelry Arts Institute, and I was fascinated by working with gold. There’s nothing like 22-karat gold. It is beautiful. It’s very malleable; you can do so much with it. There’s something a little mysterious, a little mystical about 22-karat gold, because gold is eternal; nothing can happen to it. It doesn’t rust; it doesn’t turn to ash. The only thing that happens is that you can melt it down and reuse it. So, any piece you have, it could have been a nose ring for a peasant girl; it could have been part of a tiara of queen or a pope. It could be anything, and because it doesn’t really disappear, it has this timelessness, this eternal quality about it. So, that’s how I got into fine jewelry. The gold is the main piece. The main thing about jewelry for me is the gold and the stones. I love color, so of course I’m drawn to stones, but the gold is a means of showing the stones off.    Sharon: Interesting. We will have to link to your website when we post this, and I’m encouraging everybody to look at your website and see the color in the jewelry. It’s just amazing. It’s really striking. It’s beautiful. Were these curators at the museums interested in your things because they thought, “Oh, that’s the most fantastic design?” I think of a museum as saying, “If Paul Revere made that, I’d like to put in a museum.”   Tess: It’s also a history because they wanted a provenance. They wanted to know for whom it was made, who wore it, what season. It was also a means of collecting and annotating history.   Sharon: The same thing with the tea pots?    Tess: No, the tea pot, she just loved the design. That was a different story. That wasn’t jewelry. That was something else and she just loved it. I wasn’t going to argue.    Sharon: I can think of, “Oh, I love it. I want it for my living room,” as opposed to “Oh, I love it. I want to put it in a museum.” I’m not sure I understand the connection between putting these in museums. It’s fabulous to do.   Tess: Why do we collect things in museums then? Museums have changed a lot, but museums essentially are treasure houses. They house treasures; they house things that are deemed to be beautiful. Also, they may spark your imagination or make you think about something differently. So no, I’m not surprised. I was thrilled and surprised that the museums wanted my work, but I’m not surprised that when they think something is beautiful, they want it for the museum.    Sharon: I have to say, I think my whole concept of what a museum is has been changing. I used to think that museums were all history. As I looked at museums in the west, anything over 50 years old is old. I used to think that when I went to a museum, “That’s not ancient,” or “It’s not 500 years old. It’s just from a decade or two ago.” Because I see so many things that are current in museums, or current within the last 25 years, I’m realizing that my concept of what a museum is is outdated.    Tess: Museums are having a difficult time also. In order to survive, they are switching gears. They’re trying many different things so they don’t only look to the past. They’re trying to stay current and be relevant to what’s going on in the world, which is part of what fashion does. Fashion does indicate, mirror and explain an era, always.   Sharon: You fell in love with metalsmithing and silver and gold. Your accessory business where you were designing for the runway, was that still going on?   Tess: No, that began to change, and I decided to stop doing that kind of work. As I said, I foresaw that it was going to begin to change, so I stopped that. I devoted myself more to learning the ancient goldsmithing techniques so I could make everything myself, and then I started selling. First, I stared with semiprecious and silver, and then I moved on to gold. Now I work exclusively in gold and precious and semiprecious stones.   Sharon: And you’re making everything yourself too.   Tess: I’m making everything myself.   Sharon: Wow!    Tess: I’m still learning things, and I still also use the jewelry arts as a studio. It’s fascinating. We all feel so privileged to be able to work in gold. It’s such a wonderful medium. We all have that same attitude of awe about this wonderful metal.   Sharon: It’s really true. I was at a conference several years ago, and someone pointed out that once you take the gold out of the ground, that’s it. It never goes back in, and I thought, “Yeah, that’s really true.” What are the differences you find, besides the fact that everything is a one-off, in terms of what you’re doing? How are you finding the audiences you’re doing this for compared to what you were doing before?   Tess: I started the costume jewelry business in 1976 and for a while, I essentially retired. Now, I find that social media is a very, very different world. I need a lot of help with that. I need help with social media. The younger people understand social media and are good at it, so I need help in that area to perfect everything. I have found that it has been very successful, especially Instagram. Instagram and my website, all of that, has been helpful. Before, I went to an editor, she liked my work and then the rest just fell in step, but now it’s different. For example, in October I’m going to California to do a luxury event. My work is gold; it’s heavy; it’s expensive. That is not something that is sold easily all the time. So, I go to these targeted events where people who are willing to spend the money attend.    Sharon: It is such a different world with social media. I entered the digital world in the mid-90s and the changes since then—it’s a different world. It’s amazing, and it keeps changing every two days.    Tess: I was in a restaurant the other day and this little, two-year-old girl was using her phone. I thought about how it took me many, many years to start using my phone.   Sharon: Yes, when I see kids on their phones, I’m like, “Oh my god!” When you see kids who speak a language you’re trying to learn, it’s amazing. Do you find that you get a response from Instagram and other social media?
  • Jewelry Journey Podcast podcast

    Episode 136: Part 2 - Finding Jewelry Inspiration in Ecuador’s Mountains and Sea Turtles with Jameson Murphy, Co-Founder & General Manager of Flor de la Vida

    25:40

    What you’ll learn in this episode: How Flor de la Vida draws inspiration from Ecuador’s unique landscape and wildlife  How the company developed a partnership with local and international polo teams, and their process for designing a trophy for the World Polo Championship Why it was important for Jameson to work with recycled gold and ethically sourced gems Why a jewelry design that sells well in one market won’t always be popular in another What NFTs are, and how people are using blockchain technology to invest in jewelry About Jameson Murphy Jameson Murphy is co-founder and general manager of Flor de la Vida, a jewelry brand founded in 2014 and based in Quito, Ecuador. The company uses 3D technology and innovative techniques to create sustainable, handcrafted high jewelry and engagement and wedding rings. Flor de la Vida aims to reshape the business model of selling high jewelry and push the limits of e-commerce in Ecuador and worldwide.  Additional Resources: Website Instagram Photos: Transcript: Founded in 2014 with simple silver jewelry sold door-to-door, Flor de la Vida has grown into a global high jewelry brand that combines the inspiration of Ecuador’s natural landscape with cutting-edge design and e-commerce technology. Co-owner Jameson Murphy joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about how the company sources its materials ethically; why Flor de la Vida partnered with the Polo World Championship; and how blockchain technology is changing the way people buy and invest in jewelry. Read the episode transcript here. Sharon: How does the fact that you’re in Ecuador influence your designs? It’s interesting to me. In my questions, I’ve mentioned the Southwest. Everybody talks about the light, or in Iceland, they talk about certain aspects of the country. What does Ecuador have to offer that’s different? Jameson: Our main product we sell here is engagement rings and wedding rings. We have a showroom here in Quito which we sustain ourselves with, selling and doing this. We also have the vision for luxury jewelry with this Galapagos line. We’ve been inspired by designs that are popular in the US for engagement rings. We’ve tried to work with that style, and it doesn’t always work. I speak with my wife and say, “Hey, what’s going on here?” and she says, “Well, it’s a Latin American group. They have different interests.” You have to market it differently. You can’t just go to a website in the U.S. and say, “Hey, I’m going to take some pictures that look similar to these pictures that work for them.” You need to work with the culture a little bit more. There are designs that are more interesting to the people here that I wouldn’t have thought would be good sellers. Some of our best models have been things I would not have thought would have been. Sharon: Such as? Can you give an example? Jameson: Our top engagement ring, the sides are braided with really small, one-millimeter diamonds, and then there’s a central diamond on top. Another design we thought to put in there, and it turned out to be the best design, was something I wouldn’t have imaged. It’s not something very specific, but I’m saying the customers here are drawn to that. It’s something that must be cultural. Sharon: If I went to Argentina and looked at jewelry, is there something that makes your jewelry specifically Ecuadorean in a sense? Jameson: Specifically this Galapagos line that just came out. We have the Galapagos, but we also have some of the mountains here. We would also love to get into the Amazon. We have a unique country here. We have the Amazon. We have the Andes. We have the coast and the Galapagos. There’s a lot of physical area that’s good for inspiring. We haven’t gotten into the Amazon yet, but we’d love to do work with that as well. For the moment, the inspiration has been the Galapagos, which has been this line we just came out with. Sharon: In your mind, when you think about the future and the Amazon, are you thinking of crocodiles, alligators? Jameson: There’s so much opportunity. I love the colors and the gems, so I’m thinking of frogs, jaguars, all kinds of interesting jewelry that I would love to do for the next line. Sharon: I guess my question is, I’m somebody who knows very little about Latin America. I’ve been to Argentina; that’s about it. If I come to Ecuador and look at your jewelry and then I go to Brazil, am I going to see a difference in the design and say, “Ah, that reflects that mountains of Ecuador”? What am I going to see that’s different? Jameson: Well, if we talk specifically about the line I’m making, this is unique to Ecuador. One of the largest mountains in Ecuador is Chimborazo. It’s actually the highest mountain if you’re judging it from the center of the earth, due to the bulge of the planet. It’s the farthest from the center of the earth. This is Chimborazo. We made a pendant that’s based on the 3D model of this mountain, and we have a sun that’s setting behind the mountains. This is a really unique pendant. This is something that’s unique to Ecuador, and also the wildlife we’re making the pieces of as well. Sharon: Do you find that people who are travelling or tourists are drawn to this mountain pendant because it’s a reminder? Who is drawn to that? Jameson: Yes, since we started, we’ve always wanted our jewelry to be meaningful. We understand that this is part of the magic jewelry has. People have an engagement ring and they remember the moment; they remember the feeling. There’s so much connected to it or a pendant. If it was a gift, they remember when they got it, where it came from, and they carry that with themselves. We want this to be the same for people who are visiting Ecuador. Thanks to this event we’re doing with polo, we’re preparing ourselves for the people who come here to take something back home from this event, the polo players, something to give to their wives. We’re also going to be offering it in the cruise, so they’ll remember that. It’ll be something that’s meaningful. They’ll remember the whole event, their trip to Ecuador, the polo, that it was a gift. We want to incorporate all of this and have it represent this meaning to the people. Sharon: If you put the polo aside, do you think your customers see meaning in the jewelry you’re doing that says, “Oh, this is uniquely Ecuadorean,” or “I wouldn’t find this in Colombia”? Is there something that’s a little different? I’m just trying to understand if there is some differentiation. You’re talking to somebody who’s so naïve about the geography and that culture. Jameson: Sure, the wildlife is unique, the wildlife in the Galapagos. We also made a sea iguana. In the Galapagos, they have the only sea iguana that exists. Sharon: Oh, a sea iguana, really? Jameson: It goes into the water and eats algae, and then it comes back out and dries out on the land. It’s the only iguana in the world that actually goes out to sea. So, we took an image of this. We made a really elaborate iguana, and he’s holding a big tanzanite. We wanted to create a link with Africa, where these gems are coming from, and the Galapagos. He has studded emeralds going down his back, so it’s a really beautiful piece and it’s unique. This is absolutely Ecuadorean. You wouldn’t think of Colombia or anywhere else, because this is the only place in the world where you can find this animal. Sharon: That’s interesting, a sea iguana. Has this been a popular item? I realize it’s a high-end item from what you’re describing. Do people say, “Oh, this is something I should have in my shop because I have people who will want something like this”?  Jameson: The sea iguana is actually the piece that has gotten the most attention. I reached out to some other polo groups thinking, “I’m in this world. I’m going to take advantage of it to see what I can what I do with it.” There’s another owner of a polo group and she said, “Wow! I want to make a trophy also. I’m not even thinking of doing it in Ecuador. I want to make a trophy out of a sea iguana.” She wanted to do it, and she actually used the image of the jewelry I sent her as her WhatsApp image for a couple of days, just showing her friends and letting everyone know about this image she loves. I believe she’s probably going to be the first customer for this piece, hopefully.  Sharon: I hope that comes to pass. This is really talking about niche marketing here, the niche of the polo group. In five or 10 years, we’re going to talk and you’re going to be the polo jeweler, in a sense. Jameson: That would be great. That would be a great spot to be for lovely jewelry. Sharon: Oh, sure. Jameson: You need a client who can afford a piece like this. Polo is definitely known to have high-net-worth attendees to a game like this. Sharon: Where else are they playing this in Latin America, this sport? Jameson: Where else are they playing polo? Sharon: Yes. Jameson: Like I mentioned before, I know it’s really big in Argentina. They do horse breeding. They do their own tournaments and everything, so it’s definitely very important in Argentina. I couldn’t say how important it is in other places in South America. Sharon: Would there be resistance with an Argentine team saying, “You’re from Ecuador. Why do we want something made by people in Ecuador or designed by people in Ecuador?” Would there be barriers in terms of the culture or somebody saying, “We’ll do our own”? Jameson: For the jewelry do you mean? Sharon: Yeah. Jameson: It would have to be meaningful to them. If I say, “Hey, check out this sea iguana. Would you like to buy this?” and if it’s not meaningful to them, if they’re not doing an event in Ecuador, if they’ve never visited Ecuador and they don’t think about coming to Ecuador, it’s certainly not going to be interesting to them. They’ll say, “Hey, it’s interesting, but what am I going to do with it?” That’s definitely a barrier. So, you need people that see meaning in this as well. I need to find them. Like I mentioned, the people that are running this event, they have a cruise line that goes from the coast of Ecuador out to the Galapagos, so, I can also do marketing on the cruise line. This is an opportunity because this means I’m reaching people that see deep meaning in Ecuador. They’re here visiting with their family. They’re here with their wives, their husbands, and this is a meaningful moment for them, so yes, they are interested in this. That’s a great way to reach them. Just like you mentioned, if I show it to everybody, they could say, “Hey, it’s interesting, but I’m not planning on visiting Ecuador. I’ve never been in that corner, so it wouldn’t be that interesting for me.” Sharon: It’s interesting to me, because talking to different makers, jewelers, I don’t hear a lot about finding your niche. It’s so important that you’re being very targeted. Your money goes a lot further, and it’s so much easier to find your market. Jameson: Right. Sharon: In your background, you mentioned e-commerce and blockchain. How does that play into what you’re doing in terms of selling your jewelry? Jameson: Blockchain is something that’s very interesting. This is something I’ve been interested in for a long time. About six years ago, Bitcoin came out—I don’t how long ago—but it’s something that’s always been interesting to me. I’ve followed it; I’ve investigated it; I’ve spent a lot of time looking into it. I’ve never actually had something to do with it. It’s just been something I love investigating about the economy and I find interesting. Blockchain, based on cryptocurrencies, is something I found interesting, so I thought, “How am I going to link this to jewelry?” Have you ever heard of an NFT? Sharon: I’ve heard of it, but is it possible to briefly and succinctly—because I know it’s such a complicated area—explain the blockchain and NFTs, which is very important in jewelry? Jameson: Sure, an NFT is a non-fungible token. It’s a very specific name, but basically it’s a digital item that is unique, and you know it’s unique because it’s backed by the blockchain. A blockchain is something that is non-centralized that can safely record information. You know the information is correct because it’s not produced by anybody; it’s actually produced by everybody in some way. We could say it like this. So, an NFT is a digital file that’s unique, and you know it’s unique because it is linked to the blockchain.  To give an example, there’s a business that’s selling diamonds as NFTs. For the jewelry industry, it’s easier to understand how this could be useful. There’s a business called Icecap Diamonds and they sell NFTs. I can go online and if I have a cryptocurrency—I need Ethereum, specifically—I can buy one of these diamonds. So, I buy it and what do they send? They send a digital copy of this diamond. What can I do with this? I could sell this to another person. Now, I need to know there’s actually a physical diamond related to this, so this is important: I need to trust this business, that not just anybody is selling me an image of a diamond. It needs to be a trustworthy business, but I can buy this diamond, and this is an investment.  I have a digital image; I have it my cryptocurrency wallet. I can sell this to somebody else if they’re interested, or I can burn this image. This one of the terms. If I burn this, in a sense I’m going to be canceling it, and then they send me the diamond physically. If I actually want the diamond physically, they can give it to me. I can have it in my stock; I could use it as an investment. These are specifically investment-created diamonds. If I had it physically, any time I want to have my NFT again, I want to sell it or I want to have my digital backing of this diamond, I send it back to them. They check it out and make sure this is the same diamond, that there’s no damage or anything, and they reactivate my NFT so I have it again. They have it in their safe. It’s in their bank, in their vault, and then I have this digital image or file showing that I have this. It’s just an interesting way of investing. They’re using this towards people that are investing. That want to diversify their portfolios. They can easily buy a diamond and sell it to other people or have the diamond and buy it back.   I wanted to do something similar myself, so I was thinking, “How can I do this? How can I do an NFT with jewelry?” Reaching out to another polo group, I got in contact with another owner of a major league polo group in the United States. I saw in the news that she was doing an NFT deal with polo players and making NFTs of polo players. This is basically like trading cards, you could say. They have value because you know that there’s only one or 10 of them, and you know exactly how many and you know who produced it. If we’re talking about baseball cards, you know it’s an official baseball card and you know there are only 10 in circulation, and that gives it value. An NFT has something similar. If I make cards of the best polo players and I only make one or ten of them, then it has a value of whatever value people give it knowing it’s unique.  I saw that she was a doing a big deal and she just got a big contract with this for players, so I reached out and said, “Hey, I’m making this jewelry. Would you be interested in doing some trophies or NFTs?” She was thrilled, and we actually just got a contract. I’m going to be doing an NFT jewelry line with her. This is exciting. This is digital jewelry, but it’s also exchangeable—there’s a better word for it—meaning that if they burn the image, I send them the piece of jewelry. If they send it back to me or we destroy this NFT, then I send them the physical piece of jewelry or they can have the image, which represents a piece of jewelry they can have any time or sell. Someone else could buy it. They can trade this with other people. The jewelry is based on a mascot for this polo league, which is a unicorn. It’s a unicorn that we made, and it has a gem in its belly. This is the image. People can buy this, and if they want this necklace, they let us know. They exchange the NFT for the necklace, or they can hold onto it or trade it to other people if they want. Sharon: So, if I’m a member of the league, she sends out a catalogue with T-shirts and keychains and a picture of your unicorn with the gem, and then I say, “Oh, I really like that.” Is it the same price? Would I pay the same amount for this image as I am for the gem? Jameson: Yes, you pay the full price. If you want the piece of jewelry, then you have to exchange the image for the jewelry, or you can just have the image that’s tradeable so anybody else could buy it from them. From the blockchain we will know who the owner is. You can see who has always been the owner from the creator, so whoever the owner is can say at any moment, “I would like to now have this necklace,” and then you produce it and send it to them. Sharon: When you say “you,” will you be producing it? Jameson: I will be producing it, yes. Sharon: Do you have to have it in stock in case people want them? Jameson: No, that’s one of the exciting pieces. We could sell potentially hundreds of these and not have to make them until somebody requests it. That’s an interesting aspect. Sharon: But you have to know how to make it, right? Jameson: Absolutely, yes. We have tested; we have everything ready. We know we can make it.  Sharon: Wow! Do people pay with Bitcoin? Do they pay for these with Bitcoin, or can I send you a check or an electronic transfer? How do people pay? Jameson: We’re just doing press for it right now. Last week we launched it. We’re getting people excited about it. We’re creating hype, so it’s not for sale yet. Depending on the platform we put it on—because there are a lot of different platforms, websites that offer NFTs. Some you can only pay in cryptocurrencies; others you can pay with a credit card, and they convert it because it has to be related to the blockchain at some point. We don’t have it defined. It’s probably going to be in cryptocurrency first. Sharon: When you say the blockchain--I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to understand this—the blockchain, can you explain how that fits into all of this? The blockchain, is that the cryptocurrency? Is that the different kinds of cryptocurrency that makes up a blockchain?   Jameson: Sure, I could clear this up a little bit. Specifically, I have studied Bitcoin. There are so many cryptocurrencies we now have. They all have something unique to them, which is exciting. They’re different. They’re not just a copy of Bitcoin, although some are and they just put a different name on it. Basically, a blockchain is a ledger that is confirmed by no one. Let’s say I have a ledger; I have a back account that says I have $100 and you have $100 in your bank account. I send you $100, and who confirms that I sent you the $100? We need the bank. We need a bank that says, “O.K., Jamie really had $100 and he really sent Sharon $100 and she really accepted $100.” We need somebody in between us to verify that this transaction has taken place. Blockchain is a technology that uses cryptography to be able to confirm that I have $100 or 100 Bitcoin and I sent it. This cryptography confirms that I really have $100 or 100 Bitcoin. Sharon: What’s this cryptography? Jameson: This is complicated. I don’t know it in the depth that I should, but cryptography means there’s a whole impressive algorithm that confirms that I actually have this, that I actually sent it. Let’s start from there, because later I’ll explain exactly how it’s interesting as well. This digital surveyor, let’s say, confirms that I have this, that I’m sending it to you, and that I’m not sending it to two people at once, because I could try to send—like I have a hundred Bitcoins, so I’m going to send a hundred to one person and I’m also going to send a hundred to my brother, but it’s the same hundred Bitcoin and I’m trying to cheat the system. This is impossible. This won’t happen because the cryptography says it can only go one place. I could possibly trick the system for a little bit of time, but because it’s a blockchain and every block of it is connected to the next, there are so many computers that are confirming this at once that I wouldn’t be able to trick the system for very long. Let’s go into what these computers are doing. Have you ever heard of someone who mines cryptocurrency or mines Bitcoin? Sharon: No, you’re talking to somebody who knows very little. I’m working in cash. But people mine this stuff, did you say? Jameson: I’m almost done. I understand that this is a pretty far-out topic, but it’s actually related to the jewelry, so I can bring it around. When somebody is mining cryptocurrency, you basically turn on your computer and you use your computer to look at a whole bunch of numbers. If you can look at the numbers fast, if you have a really big computer and you’re reviewing these numbers, which is checking the cryptography—you don’t know what you’re checking; you’re just reviewing that the cryptography is correct. What you’re doing is confirming the transactions people make.  There are millions of people right now, at this moment, who are mining cryptocurrencies. They turn on their computers and they link them to a centralized place where you’re confirming all of these transactions. You don’t know whose transaction you’re confirming. You have no idea what you’re doing, but your computer is checking that the cryptography is correct. Why would anybody do this? Because cryptocurrencies reward you if you solve the transaction. You found out the transaction is correct. You don’t know whose it is or where it is, but you solved it. Your computer found the bits, the numbers that link together, so then you earn Bitcoin. The Bitcoin itself produces and sends you Bitcoin, so nobody sent it to you. You don’t know whose transaction you solved, but you solved it; you solved it with cryptography, so there’s no third party. You’re solving everybody’s transaction, so it’s decentralized.  Sharon: I’ve seen several sites where people say, “We accept Bitcoin.” Have people paid you in Bitcoin for things? Jameson: A few, yes. Sharon: Has that been something you’re comfortable with, in terms of giving somebody a piece of jewelry and they give you Bitcoin? Jameson: Like I mentioned, we’ve come a long way from when we started, just making some artisanal silver jewelry. It was a limit that I had. We had a customer who reached out to us. She was a South African customer. She said, “Hey, I’d like to buy some jewelry, but I’d like to pay you in Bitcoins.” This was the first time. I said, “O.K., I’ve got to figure out what it is. If I don’t know what this is, how am I going to accept it? And if I don’t know what it is, I’m limiting myself.” I wanted to look into it; I wanted to know. I found it really interesting and I found out everything I could. I say, “Well, it’s currency.” If somebody sends you Bitcoin, it’s not that hard to go on a platform and turn it into US dollars and deposit it in your bank account. It’s really simple, actually. There’s a lot of resistance because people don’t know what it is, but it’s not that difficult to turn it back into US dollars. Sharon: That’s very interesting. There was so much resistance among dealers just going online until Covid. For years, I was trying to encourage friends who are dealers or in the business to go online, do your website, and nobody did it until there was nowhere else to sell your stuff with Covid. Anyway, is it Jamie? I know you said Jameson, but you go by Jamie.  Jameson: I used to go by Jamie, yes. Sharon: Thank you so much for being with us today. This is really interesting. You’re going to become the expert and people are going to be coming to you and saying, “How do I do this with Bitcoin?” Jameson: I’m glad to talk. Sharon: Thank you so much. It’s greatly appreciated. Jameson: Thank you so much, Sharon. Thanks for having me here. We will have images posted on the website. You can find us wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. Please join us next time, when our guest will be another jewelry industry professional who will share their experience and expertise. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you again for listening. Please leave us a rating and review so we can help others start their own jewelry journey.
  • Jewelry Journey Podcast podcast

    Episode 136: Part 1 - Finding Jewelry Inspiration in Ecuador’s Mountains and Sea Turtles with Jameson Murphy, Co-Founder & General Manager of Flor de la Vida

    22:26

    What you’ll learn in this episode: How Flor de la Vida draws inspiration from Ecuador’s unique landscape and wildlife  How the company developed a partnership with local and international polo teams, and their process for designing a trophy for the World Polo Championship Why it was important for Jameson to work with recycled gold and ethically sourced gems Why a jewelry design that sells well in one market won’t always be popular in another What NFTs are, and how people are using blockchain technology to invest in jewelry About Jameson Murphy Jameson Murphy is co-founder and general manager of Flor de la Vida, a jewelry brand founded in 2014 and based in Quito, Ecuador. The company uses 3D technology and innovative techniques to create sustainable, handcrafted high jewelry and engagement and wedding rings. Flor de la Vida aims to reshape the business model of selling high jewelry and push the limits of e-commerce in Ecuador and worldwide.  Additional Resources: Website Instagram Photos: Transcript: Founded in 2014 with simple silver jewelry sold door-to-door, Flor de la Vida has grown into a global high jewelry brand that combines the inspiration of Ecuador’s natural landscape with cutting-edge design and e-commerce technology. Co-owner Jameson Murphy joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about how the company sources its materials ethically; why Flor de la Vida partnered with the Polo World Championship; and how blockchain technology is changing the way people buy and invest in jewelry. Read the episode transcript here. Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. Today, my guest is Jameson Murphy, co-owner with his wife of Flor de la Vida, a jewelry establishment located in Quito, Ecuador. Jameson is our first guest from South America. Flor de la Vida has some interesting points of differentiation. He will tell us about these as well as his own jewelry journey today. Jameson, welcome to the program. Jameson: Thank you, Sharon. Pleased to be here. Sharon: So glad to have you. Tell us about your jewelry journey. Were you a maker? How did you get into it? Did you study it? Jameson: I didn’t actually study it. When I started in jewelry, I had no experience. This was about eight years ago. I was living in Ecuador with my wife. We had people that were coming to visit us frequently from the United States, family, friends, so we thought about how we could make the best of these trips. People can bring us things, and that would make it easier to ship it. It was difficult to bring things into the country at that time. My wife had experience with making jewelry. She had some friends who were jewelers. She had a little bit of experience, so we thought we could have them bring gems, semiprecious gems, and we could make jewelry out of it. We could design some things, and we knew someone who could make them for us. That was where we started. We had some friends and family bring some stones down, we made some designs, and we basically just offered them to friends, people we knew, and started selling jewelry. That was the beginning. That was about eight years ago. Sharon: It sounds like the political climate, the financial climate, has changed since then and things can enter the country more easily. Jameson: Importing has become much easier just in this year. We had a real protectionist government that was good in a lot of ways, but difficult for bringing things in. That’s really opening up now. That brings more opportunity, but also brings more competition, so there are ups and downs to every side. Sharon: Well, I’m glad that at least bringing stuff in is easier. There’s always competition, right? Jameson: Right. Sharon: Tell us about Flor de la Vida. What does the name mean? How did you come up with it? Who are your customers? Tell us about that. Jameson: When we started, like I mentioned, it was silver jewelry. We hadn’t thought of doing gold jewelry at first, but we wanted it to be meaningful jewelry. We wanted to do jewelry with significance, with sacred geometry. Flor de la Vida is “the flower of life,” which is a geometrical pattern based on sacred geometry. It doesn’t belong to any one culture; it’s a geometry that’s universal. These were the designs we were making. We specialized in reiki jewelry— Sharon: What’s reiki? Jameson: Reiki is a Japanese health technique. It’s an energetic healing technique. They use symbols and healing with energy, and we were making the image of the symbol. This was the start of it. We felt that Flor de la Vida, the flower of life, would be a good name for our business. Sharon: Did it take you a while, a lot of thought, in terms of coming up with the name, or did you sit down and say, “Hey, this is what we’re doing. Let’s do this”? Jameson: We had another partner at that time. It was me, my wife and another partner, and she said, “Please, I want to use this name. Let’s do it.” We didn’t question her about it. We said, “O.K., let’s do it.” We liked it also, so it didn’t take too much thought. I was thinking about ideas, trying to see what it could be, but she asked us if we could do this, and we liked the name as well so we went with it. Sharon: Yeah, it’s a memorable name. Who do you sell to? Do you sell to other retailers? Do you sell directly to the consumer? Do you sell online? Jameson: We’ve evolved a lot. This was the beginning, like I mentioned. We started like this, just selling to people we knew. We showed jewelry to friends and family. Our partner at that time, she was someone who would sell jewelry. She would go to conferences. She was like a door-to-door salesman at that point, but it wasn’t door-to-door. She would go to offices; she would go to government buildings. She would sell to anyone she could. So, we also would go that way, and we thought, “These designs are great. We’re selling them, and it’s about the same amount of work to sell a silver piece of jewelry and to make a gold piece of jewelry. Let’s try it.” So, we invested in making some gold jewelry. We sold it and said, “Well, these semiprecious gems are great to use. We love them, but let’s try some emeralds; let’s try some rubies; let’s try some other things,” and we sold them as well. We just kept on going from there, realizing we could keep on growing and the limit was the limit we were putting on it. Just keep on trying to overcome the limits, see what else can I do. How am I limiting myself? What can I open up to? That has brought us to now, where we’re selling to people internationally. We sell luxury jewelry. We’re working with polo. We’re making a polo trophy for a World Cup event. Sharon: Yeah, you mentioned that. Tells us about it. Is polo big there? You mentioned that you were commissioned— Jameson: Not especially big. There are clubs in all the major cities. There’s a polo club and they are active. They do polo, but not like in other countries. In Argentina, I know polo is really important for the country, but in Ecuador, it’s a sport that people do. There is a group of people that are into it, but I wouldn’t see it on television. I don’t see people talking about it so much. The United States, they have a connection with a cruise line they have in the Galapagos, so they set up a World Cup event. It’s the US v. Ecuador. They’re going to do this World Cup event, and they asked us to do the trophy. We designed a really unique Galapagos-themed trophy, which is going to be presented in February of 2022. Sharon: Is this a gold trophy? Jameson: No, it’s going to be bronze. It’s enormous. It’s larger than a meter. This is a perpetual trophy. That means that every year, they’re going to repeat this event and every year, the winner will be put on the plaque on the bottom of this. It’ll keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger along the decade. This is a perpetual trophy that should keep them going for a long time. I understand there’s been a contract between the US and Ecuador, and this is an ongoing event. Sharon: When you say a perpetual trophy, does the person take it home? Does somebody on the winning team take it home? Jameson: No, it stays at the club where the event is. That means it’s perpetual because it keeps being the official trophy for many years, but we are also making smaller trophies the two teams will take home. So, the winning team has a slightly larger trophy and the other team has a smaller trophy. Sharon: When you say a Galapagos-themed trophy, does it have animals on it, sea turtles? That’s what I think of. Jameson: This is new to us. We had never made a trophy before, so we did a lot of investigation. What is the meaning of a trophy? Where does this idea come from? It’s a symbol of victory. You’ve taken over another city; you’ve dominated, and this shows the wealth you have acquired. It’s an award symbol, so we looked into that. What is the symbol of it? What are polo trophies like, because there are trophies for all the different sports and they can be unique in different ways. With polo trophies, we saw they all had this Greco-Roman style. It’s classical, it’s elegant, and so we wanted to incorporate that. We didn’t want to make something completely different from that, so we incorporated that but made a huge Galapagos tortoise as the base of it, and then it has a big Roman column coming out of it. It’s a beautiful combination of Ecuador. You can see it’s like a huge island, this Galapagos tortoise, and then coming out are the similar things you know. It’s really extravagant and elegant. Sharon: It sounds wonderful. Was it controversial? Did you have to do several designs when you presented your ideas? Jameson: We wondered how it was going to be accepted. We pitched it as an idea. We said, “This is an idea we came up with. We think it looks great but let me know, because obviously the other people have to accept it, the people who are organizing the event.” They loved it. The saw it and said, “Yes, this is incredible. We love it. Do it. I’ve never seen anything like it before.” It was extremely unique to them, and seeing their excitement was great for us. We knew we had really hit home with something they hadn’t seen before, and that was exciting. They said they’re going to put it in polo magazines worldwide. They’re excited about it; we’re excited about it, and from the first time we presented it, they accepted it. Sharon: Wow, that’s fabulous! It doesn’t happen often, so that’s great. Jameson: That was great. Sharon: Are you going to be doing a line of jewelry to go along with this? Jameson: Yes, we’ve designed a line of jewelry to go with this. This is a high-luxury line, and it all has an Ecuador and Galapagos theme. We have some turtle-themed pendants, whale-themed bracelets, and all these features sustainable rare gems. We teamed up with a family that does amazing work, Roger Dery. They go as close to the mine as they can. They source these gems, and they buy strictly from the locals when they can. They return many times to the same places so they get to know these people and find the best gems they can. Roger Dery is the father of the family. He’s the cutter. He’s an award-winning precision cutter. Every cut is specific to the chemical compound so their refraction can be displayed excellently.  In investigating, we found this family and their gems and we said, “We want to do jewelry with them because we want to do sustainable jewelry.” They do this work. They know where they are coming from. It’s a family business. We like what they’re doing. They also have a nonprofit called Gem Legacy, and we thought this was great. We want to do work with them; we want to be part of this. People can be aware of where this comes from and take an interest in other human beings and the environment, which is important for us as well. So, this jewelry line is based on Galapagos themes and rare gems, really beautiful, rare gems. Sharon: Have you already presented the line, or is it something you’re developing now? Jameson: We do have this design. It’s completely designed. It’s 3D modeled and rendered. We have everything ready. We have done tests on it. We don’t have it made yet. We don’t have it in stock, but we know it’s ready. We have it and it’s presentable, so we can market it. We can do it through e-commerce; we can get people interested. Everything is ready to go, but we don’t have it physically, which is one of the benefits of the technology we use, which is being able to sell a piece before we actually have it. We work with very little stock, and we offer a lot of products we know we can make thanks to the current technology. Sharon: When you’re selling this, are you presenting designs? You don’t have your door-to-door person anymore, and people aren’t walking into a store. Are you going to shows? How are you doing that? Jameson: We’re doing it online at the moment through social media. Also the polo event; we’re connected to their mailing list, so this is specifically interesting to them, people that are playing polo or they’re related to the event, they’re coming to the event and they’re going to do the Galapagos cruise. I have contact with these people, and I’ve also reached out to other polo groups. I said, “Hey, look what we’re doing here. It’s something we’re excited about. Hopefully you like it as well.” And this opens it up. It’s a lot of reaching out, building and doing it digitally. We’re taking advantage of the moment, which is one in which everything needs to be digital. In Ecuador, we’re still living in the pandemic. I understand that in other parts of the world, everything has eased up a lot, but down here, we’re pretty much still at the home office mainly. From here, we’re able to reach the world, which is exciting. Sharon: Yeah, everybody’s involved. I think a lot of parts of the world are still dealing with Covid. It eases and then it tightens. That’s what’s happening in Los Angeles. Did you buy your polo whites yet? Do you buy your horse and your polo outfits? Jameson: Not yet. I’m getting ready for that. That’s in February. This will be my first polo event I’m going to. This is new to me. I did go the club and I met the owners. I wanted to know where the trophy’s going to be, so I got to check it out, but there wasn’t an event at the time when I went. Sharon: I don’t know anything about polo. Is it seasonal? You can’t play in the snow. Jameson: I’ve done a lot of investigation. There actually is snow polo. I believe it’s in Switzerland or somewhere in the Alps; they actually make a snow polo event. They make the polo ball larger and red so they can see it. I’ve even seen images of elephant polo that I believe are in India. I haven’t seen any videos of it. There are a lot of different variations. Sharon: Is it a summer sport? Is it a spring and summer sport?  Jameson: I understand that it’s active now. It’s a summer and, I believe, a fall sport. I know the people I’m organizing the event with, they’re busy right now; they’re in full season, so summer and fall it seems like. Like I mentioned, this is my first year going into it, so I couldn’t give the exact details. Here in Ecuador there are not really seasons. We’re right on equator, so there’s basically a dry season and a wet season, but that changes day to day. Sharon: What was their level of interest in jewelry when you said you also wanted to do a jewelry line that reflects the cup you’re doing? What was their level of interest in having something like that? Jameson: They weren’t specifically interested in that. That was us taking advantage. They said, “Hey, you could do this. You could do this. We can open up our cruise line,” so they gave us some ideas. They were more interested in the trophy and they just threw us some ideas of things we could do. We took advantage of them and said, “That’s great. We’ll make a line. Please give us your mailing list. Let’s reach out. Let’s do a release of this line.” That was more us taking advantage of the situation as much as we can. Sharon: I talk with a lot of people who are entrepreneurs, but you sound very entrepreneurial. You talked about sustainable gems. How do you know they’re sustainable?  Jameson: That’s a good question. You have to work on trust, really. I’ve been working with this family for a couple of years, and I’ve seen their work. I know they’re dedicated, and that’s really the best I can do if I’m not at the mine myself. It’s a good question; it’s on trust. If we’re talking about gold, the gold they buy—I use recycled gold here in Ecuador—if it’s coming from an artisanal mine, it’s probably going to be using mercury. That’s something you’d like to avoid, but that’s something that’s always happening in the world. We just try to do our best. We set the intention and we try to do what we can. So, use recycled material, work with people you trust and try to do good. Try to even do better than you were doing; try to open up more. Sharon: What does sustainability mean to you? What do you look for? You’re doing your best. Sometimes you have gold that’s been mined with mercury, but in your gems, what does sustainability mean? What are you looking for? Jameson: For sustainability, I would look for the human relation, so where these gems come from. Are you supporting a community or are you buying gems that come from a place where people are exploited? So, sustainability mostly in the human sense. These gems I’m using for this line, we know these are coming from communities where people work together. They’re farmers and miners, so these are people that benefit deeply from the gems they sell. They can continue living in their communities and living a meaningful life with dignity. This is what we strive for. Sharon: Is this true just for the polo gems or is this true in general? Jameson: We would love to open this up as much as we can. In Latin America, there’s not much market for this. If we market this and put a higher price, there are not really any clients we’ve come across yet that are going to say, “Hey, I’m willing to pay more because I care about this.” In Latin America where we do most of our sales, there’s not really a market for it. But when we’re reaching out through e-commerce and the internet, we’re trying to reach out to the world, which also help grow this. Reaching more people, making more sales, showing more people that this is a future we can all work towards. This helps the movement itself. Sharon: So, people are not coming to you and saying specifically, “I want jewelry that has gems from sustainable sources.” They’re not coming and asking for that. Jameson: No, that’s our interest, so we’re trying to promote this. We’re trying to move this. Really, nobody’s asking for that right now, but we want to promote it. We want to get this idea out there and we want to make it better. We want to do whatever we can to promote this and make everything more sustainable than what we do. Sharon: And recycled gold, I assume that’s not really at sale. People put up their jewelry and you melt it down and use it for something. Is that what we’re talking about? Jameson: That’s what we do. It’s mostly pawned jewelry. We work with it. There’s a business that takes all the pawned jewelry and melts it down. They purify it and sell it to us. Here in Ecuador, it’s mostly pawned. I don’t know where other people get recycled jewelry from.
  • Jewelry Journey Podcast podcast

    Episode 135: Part 2 - Why Jewelers of the 60s and 70s Were Part of the Counterculture—Even if they Didn’t Realize It with Jewelry Experts Susan Cummins and Cindi Strauss

    24:57

    What you’ll learn in this episode: The characteristics that define contemporary American jewelry What narrative art jewelry is, and why it was so prevalent in the 1960s and 70s What defines American counterculture, and why so many 60s and 70s jewelers were a part of it Who the most notable American jewelry artists are and why we need to capture their stories How Susan and Cindi developed their book, and why they hope other people will build on their research About Susan Cummins Susan Cummins has been involved in numerous ways in the visual arts world over the last 35 years, from working in a pottery studio, doing street fairs, running a retail shop called the Firework in Mill Valley and developing the Susan Cummins Gallery into a nationally recognized venue for regional art and contemporary art jewelry. Now she spends most of her time working with a private family foundation called Rotasa and as a board member of both Art Jewelry Forum and California College of the Arts. About Cindi Strauss Cindi Strauss is the Sara and Bill Morgan Curator of Decorative Arts, Craft, and Design and Assistant Director, Programming at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). She received her BA with honors in art history from Hamilton College and her MA in the history of decorative arts from the Cooper-Hewitt/Parsons School of Design. At the MFAH, Cindi is responsible for the acquisition, research, publication, and exhibition of post-1900 decorative arts, design, and craft. Jewelry is a mainstay of Cindi’s curatorial practice. In addition to regularly curating permanent collection installations that include contemporary jewelry from the museum’s collection, she has organized several exhibitions that are either devoted solely to jewelry or include jewelry in them. These include: Beyond Ornament: Contemporary Jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt Collection (2003–2004); Ornament as Art: Avant-Garde Jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt Collection (2007); Liquid Lines: Exploring the Language of Contemporary Metal (2011); and Beyond Craft: Decorative Arts from the Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection (2014). Cindi has authored or contributed to catalogs and journals on jewelry, craft, and design topics, and has been a frequent lecturer at museums nationwide. She also serves on the editorial advisory committee for Metalsmith magazine. Additional Resources:  Museum of Fine Arts Houston Art Jewelry Forum  Photos: Police State Badge 1969/ 2007 sterling silver, 14k gold 2 7/8 x 2 15/16 x 3 15/16 inches Museum of Arts and Design, New York City, 2012.20 Diane Kuhn, 2012 PHOTO: John Bigelow Taylor, 2008 Portrait of William Clark in a bubble_2 1971                        photographer: Unknown Necklace for the American Taxpayer 1971 Brass with silver chain  17 " long (for the chain)  and 6.25 x 1.25 " wide for the hanging brass pendant. Collection unknown Dad’s Payday 1968 sterling, photograph, fabric, found object 4 ½ x 4 x ¼ inches Merrily Tompkins Estate, Ellensburg Photo: Lynn Thompson Title: "Slow Boat" Pendant (Portrait of Ken Cory) Date: 1976 Medium: Enamel, sterling silver, wood, copper, brass, painted stone, pencil, ballpoint pen spring, waxed lacing, Tiger Balm tin, domino Dimensions: 16 3/4 × 4 1/8 × 1 in. (42.5 × 10.4 × 2.5 cm) Helen Williams Drutt Family Collection, USA Snatch Purse 1975 Copper, Enamel, Leather, Beaver Fur, Ermine Tails, Coin Purse 4 ½ x 4 x 3/8” Merrily Tompkins Estate, Ellensburg The Good Guys 1966 Walnut, steel, copper, plastic, sterling silver, found objects 101.6 mm diameter Museum of Arts and Design, NYC, 1977.2.102'                        PHOTO: John Bigelow Taylor, 2008 Fetish Pendant 1966 wood, brass, copper, glass, steel, paper, silver 3 ½ x 3 ½ x 5/8 inches Detroit Institute of Art, Founders Society Purchase with funds from the Modern Decorative Arts Group, Andrew L. and Gayle Shaw Camden Contemporary and Decorative Arts Fund, Jean Sosin, Dr. and Mrs. Roger S. Robinson, Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Danto, Dorothy and Byron Gerson, and Dr. and Mrs. Robert J. Miller / Bridgeman Images November 22, 1963 12:30 p.m. 1967 copper, silver, brass, gold leaf, newspaper photo, walnut, velvet, glass 6 ¼ x 5 x 7/8 inches Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Rose Mary Wadman, 1991.57.1 Front and back covers Pages from the book Transcript: What makes American jewelry American? As Susan Cummins and Cindi Strauss discovered while researching their book, In Flux: American Jewelry and the Counterculture, contemporary American jewelry isn’t defined by style or materials, but by an attitude of independence and rebellion. Susan, who founded Art Jewelry Forum, and Cindi, who is Curator of Decorative Arts, Crafts and Design at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about what it was like to interview some of the most influential American artists; why they hope their book will inspire additional research in this field; and why narrative jewelry artists were part of the counterculture, even if they didn’t consider themselves to be. Read the episode transcript here.  Sharon: Definitely, it’s a history book, but it’s not, because you really do get that flavor for who they are or what they were passionate about or what they were trying to express. I’m just curious; how did you distill all of this into counterculture? Was that something that you decided in a brainstorm? You could have come up with a lot of different things. Cindi: I’m going to let Susan to take that, because—and I admit this freely—I had a very specific idea of what the counterculture was and how people slotted into that. Through Susan and Damian, my understanding of the counterculture was broadened in such an incredible way. They really pushed me to open up my mindset and think about it in many different, layered ways, and I have benefited from that dramatically. So, Susan led that. Susan, I’ll turn it over to you. Susan: O.K., and I’ll try and answer. We had decided to focus on the 60s and 70s and limit it to that time period. That was the counterculture time period, and as I said before, there are so many in the craft world, which I was participating in during that time, that reflect the sensibilities of the counterculture. As we were interviewing these people, what was really interesting is that many of them didn’t necessarily think of themselves of part of the counterculture. They thought of themselves as hardworking jewelers that couldn’t be part of the counterculture because that was the dropout, don’t do anything, take drugs part of the world. But that wasn’t really the counterculture.  The counterculture was especially young people who were opposed to the way that people were living their lives. That got really defined in the 50s, which was a very austere, go to work, make money, buy a refrigerator, get a house and even if it was killing you, do this kind of life. They said, “We don’t want that. We want a life that feels meaningful to us, that has real value.” In all kinds of different ways, that was what the counterculture consisted of: thinking in a different way about how life could be for us, something that’s meaningful, something that you love doing, something that has some consideration of ecology and equal rights and all of the counterwar attitudes reflected in it. That was really what people wanted to do. The counterculture is big and broad.  A lot of people who thought, for example, that Fred Woell was a Boy Scout. If you asked Fred or you saw his papers or you asked his wife, “What kind of car did Fred drive?” A VW van. What kind of food did he eat? Natural foods. Did he build himself a house? Yes, he did, with solar panels on it. He was a counterculture guy. He just looked like a Boy Scout. A lot of the things you learn in the Boy Scouts were actually part of the counterculture, too, the survival skills and all of that. It’s a funny thing to say, but I think in the process of writing this book, we convinced a lot of the jewelers we interviewed that they were part of the counterculture even though they hadn’t realized it themselves either. Sharon: That’s interesting. Did you enter this process thinking that these people were part of the counterculture, or was that something that came to you as put everything together? Susan: I think it was kind of there from the beginning, but not really. I think we discovered it along the way. In fact, I don’t think we were thinking about having the word counterculture in the title. I think for a long time we thought it would be “American Jewelry in the 60s and 70s.” I think it was a provocative idea to put counterculture in the title. It might be that it was a bad idea because, as Cindi said, a lot of people have a narrow point of view as to what the counterculture is, but I hope that if anybody decides to pick up the book, they can find a much broader definition, which I think is the real definition. To limit it is not fair to the expression. Sharon: I think the book does broaden the definition. Before reading the book or looking at the book, I entered into it thinking of Sausalito. I grew up on the West Coast, so to me, the counterculture was Sausalito. My family and I drove through there once when I was a young person, so that was the counterculture, or Berkeley was the counterculture. I Googled the word counterculture, and it’s interesting because it goes through all different periods of history that were counterculture. It wasn’t just the 60s and 70s. Who did you feel it was wrenching to leave out of the book when you had make some decisions? Cindi: Before I would answer that specifically, to give a little more context, there were a number of jewelry artists who were personally active in all the ways we were highlighting in this book, but their jewelry itself didn’t reflect that. We had long debates about how to deal with that. Ultimately, for better or for worse, it came down to the fact that at the end of the day, the book was about the jewelry. It was rooted in the actual works of art. There were artists whose jewelry did not reflect their personal lives. With those artists, we were able to include them in the book in terms of quotes and information that helped set the stage and provide information, whether it was about things from their own lives, if they were professors, what was in their program, but their jewelry wasn’t necessarily featured. I’m thinking of someone like Eleanor Moty, who was incredibly helpful in terms of the interview that Susan did and being a sounding board, but her jewelry didn’t make it into the book pictorially. There were others who were also like that.  I think I wouldn’t necessarily call it gut-wrenching, but it was something we struggled with over a period of time, because these were artists who were very active; they were active in shows; they were teaching; they were going to Summervale; they were going to SNAG, some of them, some of them not. For me, Wayne Coulter is probably the big regret. I did an extensive interview with Wayne and his wife, Jan Brooks, and it was a great interview. He was very involved with Summervale, and a lot of his jewelry would have fit pictorially in the book, but we were never quite able to get the images and the materials we needed to include the jewelry. He’s included, as is Jan, in terms of quotes and things like that. For me, that would be one that I regret. Sharon: This is not to say anybody’s second tier. I don’t mean that. Cindi: Oh no, not at all. Sometimes there are practicalities. This is a time when a lot of the artists don’t even know, necessarily, where their jewelry from the late 60s or early 70s resides. Maybe they had slides of it, but those slides may not exist, or they may have been completely discolored. There were practical issues that made certain pieces and/or certain artists—we were unable to go as far as we wanted to. Susan, what do you think? Susan: Yeah, I completely agree with all that. I would say that we interviewed a lot of people that didn’t get in the book. There was a lot of jewelry that started up right at the very end of the 70s and went into the 80s. We squeaked in a couple of those people, but what you have to think about is that we’re showing you or talking about examples of people in various phases. Some people were very political. Some people weren’t so political in their work necessarily, but they lived a counterculture lifestyle and participated in counterculture activities, and it shows up in their jewelry but not as strongly as in others. We tried to give a mix of examples of the things we were talking about, but as Cindi said, there were lots of people we interviewed that never showed up in the book. We must have interviewed Laurie Hall, for example, about three times. Her work isn’t in the book, but Damian went on to write about her. That book will be coming out in the fall. We acquired an awful lot of information that didn’t ever get in the book and people we interviewed that didn’t get in the book. You just have to go with the most obvious choices at a certain point and think of them as examples of other people that you could have included, but you didn’t. Maybe some people were upset by that, but you do have to make some decisions. As Cindi said, there are certain practical limitations. Sharon: I think I gave a birthday party when I was 13, and I was so traumatized by having to make decisions about the guest list. I always wonder about it, if you make decisions about who to put in and who to leave out. Do you know the name of the book about Laurie Hall? What’s it called? Susan: It’s called North by Northwest: The Stories of Laurie Hall. Or maybe The Jewelry of Laurie Hall. Sharon: That leads into my next question. Is there going to be a part two or an addition to the book you just wrote, In Flux? There’s so much more material. Susan: Definitely, there’s more material. Somebody needs to look at African-American jewelers. We barely got to include some aspects of that. Native American jewelers, too, have a whole history that we didn’t really cover at all. These things are whole topics unto themselves, really. We hope someone will take up the mantle and find out more about that. There’s a huge amount of continuing research. We don’t have any plans to do that, so anybody listening can definitely take it up. Go for it. It’s up to you. Sharon: It sounds like a great PhD project. Cindi: Yeah, it can be a PhD thesis. There could be a series of articles. It doesn’t have to be a big book about something. You could do all whole symposium based on this topic. You started off with a question about our jewelry journey. I think this is and will be, for all of us, an ongoing journey. Susan and Damian have written this book on Laurie Hall. There will be other threads that, either collectively or individually, we’ll want to take up in continuing our own journey off of this book, areas that piqued our interest and we’ll go from there. As Susan said, we’re hoping people will pick up the mantle. One of the things we learned through this process, and it’s probably a lesson that should have been obvious to us beforehand, but the field of American jewelry is a young field. For most of its history, there have been dominant narratives. I’m part of that group of people who have helped with those dominant narratives. As a field evolves, you lay down the baseline, then you focus on individual artists, then you go back and start to layer in additional histories in a way that you can actually understand the full field. A lot of the artists we included in In Flux worked on the outskirts of what was previously the dominant narrative. I think as we proved, that doesn’t make their work any less significant, influential, etc. from artists who were part of the dominant narrative. It’s a phenomenal way for the field to continue to grow. I hope that as more institutions of all types focus on contemporary jewelry, it will engender additional layers of that story which will continue to propel the field forward. Sharon: Cindi, I noticed that when you look the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston website, you’ve been involved in a lot of online programming and symposia and things I didn’t realize. I’m wondering when you’re going to have a symposium on this subject. Cindi: It would be terrific. Up to this point, Susan and I have been invited to give talks. We did one with Craft in America last fall. We did with MAD. We’ve been invited on your jewelry podcast. I’m also going to be speaking for the Seattle Metals Guild Symposium next month. I would love to do a symposium. For me, in order to do a symposium right, it’s not just about getting speakers together, which you can do virtually, but it’s really about them coming together and having that in-person experience where you can have breakout sessions; you have the conversations in the hallways, all of those kinds of things. I would absolutely love to do that when it’s safe to do it, which is not to say that—there are no current plans. I think our virtual talks have been fantastic, but it would be great to gather the tribe, so to speak, to gather people we interviewed for this book, to gather people who are interested and to share a day or two together to dive into this. I hope that can happen. Certainly, the door is open to it. I just think right now we’re still figuring out what we can do in person and what we can’t. Susan: I know many of those people are quite elderly at this point in time. Even as we were writing the book, people were dying. Cindi: Yeah, Ed Woell died. Ron Hill died, and now Nancy Gordon has died. Susan: Mary Tompkins passed away. Cindi: Mary Tompkins passed away. Several people had already passed away, but this history will not be quite the same unless people go and interview these older makers soon. This is part of the problem: with them dies a huge amount of information. It’s impossible to know anything concrete about a jeweler unless you actually talk to them. Anyway, I hope that if people do want to take up this mantle or if they do a symposium, they do it soon, because they may be all gone by the time we get there. Sharon: People do it on Cartier and Renee Beauvois, and they’re not around. Susan: They also kept better records and took better photographs. With those wealthy jewelry companies, it’s very different than being a unique maker on your own in your little studio. Many of these people weren’t even taking photographs of the work at the time necessarily, or if they were, certainly they were not great ones. They just clicked on a photo link on a slide back. This is not the wealthy, recorded advertising world of Cartier. This is a very different world. Cindi: As someone who has done a Cartier exhibition, I can also tell you that it’s about the firm and about styles. You don’t learn about who the individual designers were of X, Y and Z pieces, but Susan’s right. For artists who are listening to this, it is incumbent upon you to document your work. Today, there are obviously tools that artists from the 60s and 70s could not have availed themselves of, which would have made it much easier. So, document your work, keep track of your work and update the way you document it, so that somebody 30 or 40 years from now who is wanting to do something in depth on you is not having to battle with an old technology that nobody knows how to use anymore, which then can make things invaluable. I’m old school. I’m a big believe in paper. I know that is completely against the way the world works, but I am wary. I have experience with recorded, even digital formats, that we don’t have the equipment to use anymore; nobody knows how to use it. If you have a paper printout, you’re never going to have that problem. I know that this is environmentally incorrect, that everybody’s moving towards digital files. I have them myself, but I still like paper because it’s what’s going to be preserved for history. Sharon: That’s very good advice about documenting. It benefits the artist now and makes life easier for those who follow as historians and people who want to look at it academically. Susan and Cindi, thank you so much for being with us today. It was so interesting. Susan, we look forward to your next part, 1A I guess we’ll call it. Thank you so much. Susan: Thanks for having us, Sharon. It’s been wonderful. Cindi: Thank you, Sharon. Sharon: Delighted to have you. Cindi: Please do let your audiences know that the book is widely available. My plug on all these things is that we know you can buy books from Amazon. Please buy your book from a local independent bookseller, or even better, come to the MFAH’s website. You can buy it off of our website, which goes to support our museum’s programs.   We will have images posted on the website. You can find us wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. Please join us next time, when our guest will be another jewelry industry professional who will share their experience and expertise. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you again for listening. Please leave us a rating and review so we can help others start their own jewelry journey.  
  • Jewelry Journey Podcast podcast

    Episode 135: Part 1 - Why Jewelers of the 60s and 70s Were Part of the Counterculture—Even if they Didn’t Realize It with Jewelry Experts Susan Cummins and Cindi Strauss

    26:30

    What you’ll learn in this episode: The characteristics that define contemporary American jewelry What narrative art jewelry is, and why it was so prevalent in the 1960s and 70s What defines American counterculture, and why so many 60s and 70s jewelers were a part of it Who the most notable American jewelry artists are and why we need to capture their stories How Susan and Cindi developed their book, and why they hope other people will build on their research About Susan Cummins Susan Cummins has been involved in numerous ways in the visual arts world over the last 35 years, from working in a pottery studio, doing street fairs, running a retail shop called the Firework in Mill Valley and developing the Susan Cummins Gallery into a nationally recognized venue for regional art and contemporary art jewelry. Now she spends most of her time working with a private family foundation called Rotasa and as a board member of both Art Jewelry Forum and California College of the Arts. About Cindi Strauss Cindi Strauss is the Sara and Bill Morgan Curator of Decorative Arts, Craft, and Design and Assistant Director, Programming at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). She received her BA with honors in art history from Hamilton College and her MA in the history of decorative arts from the Cooper-Hewitt/Parsons School of Design. At the MFAH, Cindi is responsible for the acquisition, research, publication, and exhibition of post-1900 decorative arts, design, and craft. Jewelry is a mainstay of Cindi’s curatorial practice. In addition to regularly curating permanent collection installations that include contemporary jewelry from the museum’s collection, she has organized several exhibitions that are either devoted solely to jewelry or include jewelry in them. These include: Beyond Ornament: Contemporary Jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt Collection (2003–2004); Ornament as Art: Avant-Garde Jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt Collection (2007); Liquid Lines: Exploring the Language of Contemporary Metal (2011); and Beyond Craft: Decorative Arts from the Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection (2014). Cindi has authored or contributed to catalogs and journals on jewelry, craft, and design topics, and has been a frequent lecturer at museums nationwide. She also serves on the editorial advisory committee for Metalsmith magazine. Additional Resources:  Museum of Fine Arts Houston Art Jewelry Forum  Photos: Police State Badge 1969/ 2007 sterling silver, 14k gold 2 7/8 x 2 15/16 x 3 15/16 inches Museum of Arts and Design, New York City, 2012.20 Diane Kuhn, 2012 PHOTO: John Bigelow Taylor, 2008 Portrait of William Clark in a bubble_2 1971                        photographer: Unknown Necklace for the American Taxpayer 1971 Brass with silver chain  17 " long (for the chain)  and 6.25 x 1.25 " wide for the hanging brass pendant. Collection unknown Dad’s Payday 1968 sterling, photograph, fabric, found object 4 ½ x 4 x ¼ inches Merrily Tompkins Estate, Ellensburg Photo: Lynn Thompson Title: "Slow Boat" Pendant (Portrait of Ken Cory) Date: 1976 Medium: Enamel, sterling silver, wood, copper, brass, painted stone, pencil, ballpoint pen spring, waxed lacing, Tiger Balm tin, domino Dimensions: 16 3/4 × 4 1/8 × 1 in. (42.5 × 10.4 × 2.5 cm) Helen Williams Drutt Family Collection, USA Snatch Purse 1975 Copper, Enamel, Leather, Beaver Fur, Ermine Tails, Coin Purse 4 ½ x 4 x 3/8” Merrily Tompkins Estate, Ellensburg The Good Guys 1966 Walnut, steel, copper, plastic, sterling silver, found objects 101.6 mm diameter Museum of Arts and Design, NYC, 1977.2.102'                        PHOTO: John Bigelow Taylor, 2008 Fetish Pendant 1966 wood, brass, copper, glass, steel, paper, silver 3 ½ x 3 ½ x 5/8 inches Detroit Institute of Art, Founders Society Purchase with funds from the Modern Decorative Arts Group, Andrew L. and Gayle Shaw Camden Contemporary and Decorative Arts Fund, Jean Sosin, Dr. and Mrs. Roger S. Robinson, Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Danto, Dorothy and Byron Gerson, and Dr. and Mrs. Robert J. Miller / Bridgeman Images November 22, 1963 12:30 p.m. 1967 copper, silver, brass, gold leaf, newspaper photo, walnut, velvet, glass 6 ¼ x 5 x 7/8 inches Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Rose Mary Wadman, 1991.57.1 Front and back covers Pages from the book Transcript: What makes American jewelry American? As Susan Cummins and Cindi Strauss discovered while researching their book, In Flux: American Jewelry and the Counterculture, contemporary American jewelry isn’t defined by style or materials, but by an attitude of independence and rebellion. Susan, who founded Art Jewelry Forum, and Cindi, who is Curator of Decorative Arts, Crafts and Design at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about what it was like to interview some of the most influential American artists; why they hope their book will inspire additional research in this field; and why narrative jewelry artists were part of the counterculture, even if they didn’t consider themselves to be. Read the episode transcript here.  Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. Today, my guests are Susan Cummins and Cindi Strauss, who, along with Damian Skinner, are the co-authors of In Flux: American Jewelry and the Counterculture. Susan is the founder of Art Jewelry Forum and for several decades drove the organization. Cindi Strauss is the Curator of Decorative Arts, Crafts and Design at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Susan and Cindi, welcome to the program. Susan: Thank you. Cindi: Thank you for having us, Sharon. Sharon: So glad to have you. Can you each give us a brief outline of your jewelry journey? Susan, do you want to start? Susan: Sure. My journey started in the 80s. I had a gallery in Mill Valley, California. I was showing various crafts, ceramics mostly, and a bit of glass, fiber, a whole grouping, and then I decided I should show jewelry. I don’t really know why, because I didn’t wear jewelry, but it sounded like a good idea. I started showing it, and I was very impressed with how smart and incredibly skilled the artists were. I continued to show that, and the gallery became known for showing jewelry. In 1997, I still had the gallery, and I decided along with numerous other craft groups that we should start an organization that represented the collectors of jewelry. I started Art Jewelry Forum with the help of several other people, of course. That has continued onto today, surprisingly enough, and it now includes not only collectors, curators and gallerists, but also artists and everybody who’s interested in contemporary art jewelry. Sharon: It’s an international organization. Susan: Yes, it’s an international organization. It has a website with a lot of articles. We plan all kinds of things like trips to encourage people to get to know more about the field. I also was part of a funding organization, shall we say, a small private fund called Rotasa, and years ago we funded exhibitions and catalogues. That switched into funding specific things that I was working on instead of accepting things from other people. I’ve been very interested in publishing and doing research about this field because I feel that will give it more value and legitimacy. It needs to be researched. So, that’s one of the reasons why this book came into being as well as Flocks’ book. It really talks about the beginnings of American contemporary jewelry in the 60s and 70s. That’s my beginning to current interest in jewelry. Sharon: I just wanted to say that people can find a lot more if they visit the Art Jewelry Forum website. We’ll have links to everything we talk about on the show. Cindi? Cindi: Sure. My jewelry journey was surprising and happened all at once. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, had no contemporary jewelry in its collection until 2000, when we acquired an Art Smith necklace from 1948. That was my first real knowledge of post-Arts and Crafts jewelry and post-Mid-Century, people like Harry Bertoia. That led me to Toni Greenbaum’s Messengers of Modernism catalogue, a fantastic resource for American jewelry from the 30s through the 50s. It opened a whole new field for me, and I started to think about how we should focus on some modern jewelry from that period to expand on the Art Smith necklace, because that Mid-Century design was a specialty of the institution.  Truly, I would say my life changed in respect to jewelry for the better in every way I could explain. When the museum acquired, in 2002, Helen Williams Drutt’s private collection of artist-made contemporary jewelry, dating from 1963 to 2002 at the time of the acquisition, in one fell swoop, we acquired 804 pieces of international jewelry as well as sketchbooks and drawings and research materials. We began to build an extensive library. Helen opened her archives and we had recordings of artist interviews. It was just going from zero to sixty in three seconds and it was extraordinary. It was a field I knew really nothing about, so I was on a very steep learning curve. So many people in the field, from the artists to other curators to collectors—this is how I met Susan—were so generous to me in terms of being resources. The story about how the acquisition happened is familiar to probably many of your audience, so I’ll keep it brief, which is to say that there was an exhibition of Gijs Bakker’s jewelry that Helen organized for the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Sharon: Cindi, I’m going to interrupt you for a minute because a lot of people listening will not have heard of Gijs Bakker. Cindi: Sure. Gijs Bakker, one of the most prominent Dutch artists, began his career in the 1960s, along with wife, Emmy van Leersum, and was part of the group of Dutch jewelry artists who revolutionized the concept of contemporary jewelry using alter-native materials. They created a lot of photo-based work challenging the value system of jewelry and also challenging wearability. It was his photo-based work that was shown in a small exhibition at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft in March 2002 as part of a citywide festival called Photofest, which is all photography-based work. It was through that exhibition, at the opening weekend—that’s how I met Helen. I said to her, “This is something I don’t know anything about. I’m interested in exploring it. I’m starting to build a collection for the museum. Could we meet and have coffee and talk?” So we met, and I peppered her with a lot of questions and said, “Could I call on you for advice in terms of building a collection?” Of course, at this time she had the gallery, and she said, “Well, you know, I have a collection,” and I said, “Yes, I know, and I understand it’s going to the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” her hometown museum. She said, “Not necessarily. We haven’t had any formal talks about that.” So, one thing led to another, and six months later, we signed papers to acquire the collection. That set me off on my initial five-year journey, which resulted in the exhibition and catalogue “Ornament as Art: Contemporary Jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt Collection” that opened in Houston and traveled to Washington, D.C., to Charlotte, North Carolina, and to Tacoma, Washington. After that point, I felt that I was really steeped in the field. I have, since that point, been adding works to the collection. It was always going to be a long-term commitment and journey for the museum. We have works installed all over the museum in relationship to other contemporary art, whether it’s photography, prints and drawings, sculpture, painting. We also have a robust presentation of jewelry in our departments’ galleries. It is an ongoing journey, just like with Susan. It’s a journey that never ends, happily. There are always new artists to discover and new ideas. Part of that is our meeting of the mind, if you will, and then with Damian, is what resulted in this book. Sharon: How did you come to write the book? Susan, you started to mention it. The research in this is jaw-dropping. How did you decide to write the book? Why this particular period, the two of you? Susan: We decided to write the book because I was wondering what’s American about American jewelry. Europeans have done a lot of research and writing about their beginnings, but I didn’t see a document or a book that really talked about the American origins. As Cindi mentioned, Gijs Bakker started in the 60s. So did American contemporary jewelry, but it’s a very different story than the European one. We wanted to talk to the people who are still alive now, so we did tons of interviews for the book. We specifically concentrated on the pioneers who were responding to the political and social events of the time. In other words, we were investigating those artists who were considered narrative artists, because that was the defining feature of American art to those out of the country. We wanted to discover who was making this work and what were they saying in their narrative, so really answering “What was American about American jewelry?” We did tons of research through old documents of the American Crafts Library. We went all over the country and interviewed, and it was about a five-year-long process to get this point. The book is incredibly condensed. You can feel that there’s a lot there, but it took a lot to condense it down to that.  Really, what we hope is that it’s an easy-to-read story about the stories that jewelers were telling at the time, which was the origin of all that’s come down to us now. It was the beginning of the development of university programs in the country. They just were in the process of expanding them, and people were learning how to make things. Nobody had a lot of skills in this country, so everybody had to learn how to make things. There were a lot of alternative ways of passing around information. The counterculture, we regarded that not as hippies per se, although hippies were part of it, but also a lot about the political and social issues of the time and how people responded to them. The ethos of the time, the values that people developed really became part of the craft counterculture itself. The craft field is based on a lot of those ways of working in the world, a sort of hope and trying to create a new society that had more values than the 50s had aspired to for each individual. People were trying to find ways to have valuable lives, and doing something like making something yourself and selling it at a craft fair became a wonderful alternative for many people who had the skill to do that. That was a very different way of having a life, shall we say, and that’s how American jewelry developed: with those values and skills. I still see remnants of it in the current field. That’s my focus. Cindi, do you have some things you want to add to that? Cindi: Yeah, the larger public’s ideas and thoughts about American jewelry from that period were rooted in a history and an aesthetic that emerged largely on the East Coast, but certainly spread, as Susan said, with the development of university programs. That was an aesthetic that was largely rooted in the organic modernism of Scandinavian influence, as well as what had come before in America in terms of modernist studio jewelry. There’s a history there in the narrative, and that narrative played out in early exhibitions. It played out in the first SNAG exhibition in 1970 in St. Paul, which is considered one of those milestones of the early American studio jewelry movement.  Now, we knew that there were artists like Fred Woell, Don Tompkins, Ken Cory, Merrily Tompkins, who were on the West Coast and working in a different vein, as Susan said, a narrative vein, and who were often working with assemblage techniques and found materials and were making commentary on issues of the day. Within the accepted history of that period, they were a minority, with the exception of Fred Woell and really Ken Cory. Their work was not as widely known, as widely collected, as widely understood. Damian and Susan and I started after we thought, as Susan said, “What is American about American jewelry?”  Fred Woell was an artist who immediately came to mind as embodying a certain type of Americanness. We had an extraordinary trip to visit with Fred’s widow, Pat Wheeler, and to the see the studio and go through some of his papers. When we went, we thought we would be doing a monograph on Fred Woell. It was on that trip that we understood that it was a much larger project, and it was one that would encompass many more artists. As part of our research, there were certain artists who were known to us, and our hope was that we would rediscover artists who were working intently during that period who had been lost to history for whatever reason. There were also artists whose work we were able to reframe for the reasons that Susan mentioned: because of their lifestyle, their belief system, the way they addressed or responded to major issues during the day. So, we started developing these list of artists. I think what readers will find in the book is looking at some of the well-known artists, perhaps more in depth and in a new frame of analysis, but also learning about a plethora of other artists. For us, it was five years of intense work. There’s a tremendous amount of research that has gone into this book, and from what we’ve been hearing, it has enlightened people about a period. It's not an alternative history, but it is an additional history. We hope it will inspire people to pick up the mantle and go forth because, of course, one has constraints in terms of word counts for publishing. At a certain point, you have to get down to the business of writing and stop the research, but there are so many threads that we hope other scholars, curators, students, interested parties will pick up and carry forth. In some ways we were able to go in depth, and in other ways we were able to just scratch the surface of what has been a fascinating topic for all of us. Sharon: I have a lot of questions, but first, I just wanted to mention that SNAG is the Society of North American Goldsmiths, in case people don’t know. Can you explain, Susan or Cindi, what narrative jewelry is? Cindi: There’s no one definition. Everybody would describe it a little bit differently, but I think a basic definition is jewelry that tells a story, that uses pictorial elements to tell a story. Whatever that story is can range from the personal to the public, to, in our case, responding to things like the Vietnam War, politics, etc. Susan, do you want to add to that? Susan: It’s a very difficult thing to do when you think about. Narratives usually have a storyline from this point to that point to the next point. Here’s a jeweler trying to put a storyline into one object, one piece. It is tricky to bring enough imagery that’s accessible to the viewer together into one piece to allow the viewer to make up the story that this is about or the comment it’s trying to make. You have to be very skilled and smart to make really good narrative jewelry. Sharon: It sounds like it would be, yes. When you realized what this book was going to entail—it sounds like you didn’t start out thinking this was going to be such a deep dive—were you excited, or were you more like, “I think I’d probably rather run in the other direction and say, ‘Forget it; I can’t do it’”? Susan: I don’t think at any point did we stop and think, “Oh, this is a gigantic project.” We just thought, “Let’s see. This person’s interesting; O.K., let’s talk to this person. Oh, gosh, they said these about this other person. Let’s talk to them.” You just go step by step. I don’t think, at any point, did any of us realize how vast a project this was until the end, probably. Cindi: Yeah, I would say because it happened incrementally, deep dive led to another and another. We would have regular meetings not only over Skype, but we would get together in person, the three of us, for these intense days in which we would talk about—we each had different areas we were focusing on. We’d bring our research together and that would lead to questions: “Should we explore this avenue?” Then someone would go and explore this avenue and come back, and we would think, “Maybe that wasn’t as interesting as we thought it was going to be,” or maybe it was far more interesting than we thought, so it spun out a number of different avenues of research.  At a certain point, we started looking at the most important threads that were coming out and we were able to organize them as umbrellas, and then look at subthemes and think about the artists. It became like a puzzle. We had pockets of deep research, whether it was the in-person artist interviews or whether it was the archival research that was done, whether it was the general research. Damian and I were not alive during this time. Susan was, which was fantastic because I learned a lot about this in history class and school. Damian is a New Zealander, so he was coming at it from an international perspective. There was a lot of reading he did about American history, but Susan was the one gave us all the first-person accounts in addition to the artists. She participated in the American Craft Council Craft Fairs and was able to balance the sometimes emotionless history books with the first-person experiences that made it come alive. I think that’s what you see throughout the book. It was important to us that the book would be readable, but it was also important to us that it would have a flavor of the times. When you do oral history interviews, there are many different kinds of questions that can be asked. We set out to talk not only about the jewelry that artists were making, but their lives, what was important to them, how they felt. The richness of experiences and emotions that came out in those interviews really inflected the book with feeling like you were there and a part of what these artists were thinking. This is a 2 part episode please subscribe so you can get part 2 as soon as its released later this week. 
  • Jewelry Journey Podcast podcast

    Episode 134 Part 2: Why the 17th Century Church Used Jewels to Entice New Members with Author and Photographer, Paul Koudounaris

    25:52

    What you’ll learn in this episode: What charnel houses and ossuaries are, and why they were an important part of people’s spiritual lives Why the Catholic Church decorated hundreds of Roman skeletons with jewels in the 17th century Why 17th century nuns were some of the most skilled yet unrecognized jewelers of their day How art and jewelry can help us explore death and other touchy subjects About Paul Koudounaris Paul Koudounaris is an author and photographer based in Los Angeles. He holds a PhD in Art History from the University of California, and he has traveled around the world to document charnel houses, ossuaries, pet cemeteries, and other macabre subjects for both academic and popular journals. His books include The Empire of Death, Memento Mori, and Heavenly Bodies, which features the little-known skeletons taken from the Roman Catacombs in the seventeenth century and decorated with jewels by teams of nuns. His most recent book is A Cat's Tale: A Journey Through Feline History. Additional Resources: Instagram Photos: Rorschach upper half, chest with skull  Hergiswil stomach full shot Weyarn head with problem here due to discoloration behind skull due to back lighting through stained glass window Sonntagsberg felic chest detail Bad Schussenried head and chest Peterskirche munditia in shrine three problems, top over curtain over rope and weird candle Transcript: Today, covering a skeleton with jewels seems odd or downright morbid. In the 17th century, it was par for the course for the Catholic Church, which covered the skeletons of martyrs with jewels and lavish accessories to highlight the Church’s power. Author and photographer Paul Koudounaris has spent years researching and documenting these little-known historic treasures, which he detailed in his book Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs. He joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about how the skeletons (and human remains generally) were an important part of people’s spiritual lives; why nuns were responsible for decorating the jeweled skeletons; and why the Catholic Church’s efforts to honor martyrs didn’t exactly go as it intended. Read the episode transcript here.  Sharon: Paul, I’m thinking: you have a PhD in art history, so you’re a historian skilled in doing research. A lot of what you’re talking about isn’t just looking at something; it sounds like you had to do a lot of digging. Were the things you were talking about, the traditions and things, was this just passed down and the clergymen knew about it when you came to town, or did you have to go find original documents? Paul: I had to go back to a lot of original source material. Obviously, a lot of this stuff is forgotten about now. I did a lot of digging. It was a good couple of years of very solid research, mostly in Germany. This is very obscure information, but it was rewarding information. When you do research like this, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle in getting all the pieces back into place. In the end, you never get all the pieces; you never wholly fill out the puzzle, but I feel like I did a good job of filling in about 98 percent of the puzzle of those skeletons. Sharon: I’m sure you know more than anybody else on earth about this. For all of your books, you’ve done the photography. Were you into photography before this? Paul: I had played around with photography a little bit before, but not professionally. When I did my first book, The Empire of Death, I actually didn’t want to do the photos for the book. I wanted someone else to do them because I wanted to be able to concentrate on the research, and I didn’t want to get too distracted by the photos. I wanted to walk into an old charnel house and be able to concentrate on understanding it as a space rather than immediately running in and looking it as a photographer. In the end, there was no one who could do the photos for me. There was no one who wanted to take that trip and get involved, so, I was forced into the position of doing it. In the end, by both doing the photos and researching them, I understood them all the better. It didn’t distract me; I think it actually helped me focus on them.  After I had done that book, there was no question that I was going to do the photos for the rest of my books. I liked working that way. I did all the photos for Heavenly Bodies. Photographically it was a very hard task because a lot of them are in cases, so they can’t be removed from these glass cases without destroying a lot. It was very difficult, but again very rewarding. I’d like to think by doing it myself and really understanding it, it allowed me to get pictures that, to me, looked more sympathetic than clinical. It might be hard to explain that without looking at other people’s photos, but a lot of times, I felt that by taking the photos, I’d strive for a sense of personality because each of them had something to convey. I felt very close to them by the end of this work; maybe not close to them, but close to the people who once venerated them and those nuns who created them. Sharon: I could understand how that would be. In the beginning, you were talking about how you got your PhD in art history and you were looking for the niche. How did you stumble on this death niche?  Paul: I studied at UCLA. I was probably the Fox Mulder of the art history department. I was always the guy who, while everybody else was working on Rembrandt, I’d go off and do a seminar paper about wood cuts of werewolves or something like that. It was the things that were not considered high art and were not considered masterpieces. I was always into these things that were visual culture for common people and visual culture that had been pushed to the margins just because we consider it hokey or unseemly. I was always into that kind of stuff. I was not working on the death stuff while I was in grad school. That came later to me, when I was traveling around Europe and I understood this massive part of people’s lives that we had pushed out of the history books just because we were uncomfortable with it, and when I understood the incredibly important role it played in people’s spiritual lives to have these bones around. I do want to talk a little bit about the materials that went into the skeleton, if that’s O.K. Sharon: Yes, please. Paul: I think that’s important because people always ask me, “Are these real jewels or are these replicas?” They want to talk about the materials, and I think this can relate to your audience. In most cases, they are glass replicas rather than real rubies or things like that, but there’s a reason for that. When I say they are replicas, a lot of them think, “O.K., it must be cheap,” and it’s not. Nature provides what it provides, and it might not provide the materials we need in perfect shapes and sizes and patterns. So, if you were to decorate a skeleton just with real jewels found in nature, it would be very, very hard to match things up to get a perfect pattern and a perfect flow of material. That is a big part of the reason they were using glass replicas, but when I say glass replicas, I don’t mean cheap. I don’t mean going down to Hobby Lobby or Michael’s and buying junk like people would today. There were very few glass-blowers in Europe who could make presentation-quality replicas of real jewels. They were located in the Czech Republic, in Bohemia and in Venice, and they were very, very expensive. When I say replicas, I don’t mean cheap. If you look at the skeletons and you see these perfect patterns of similarly shaped jewels with a similar sheen to them, that’s because they’re replicas, but they would use replicas so they could complete a decorative pattern perfectly rather than relying on what nature could provide.  A lot of them you’ll see are wearing what looked like wigs. Those wigs are super important. Those wigs are made of gold and silver wire. Talk about incredible expense. There was only one place in Europe that could make wire in the finest of hair, and it was in Lyon, France. They would have to get this wire made out of silver. The reason they would use this gold and silver wire, this metallic wire and precious metal, to make these wigs for them was because they wanted them to stand the test of time. Let’s say I got a nice wig made out of horsehair or something. That would be pretty durable. It’s still not going to last 300 years and hold its shape, is it? No way. But a wig made of coiled precious metal wire will stand the test of time, and it will maintain its shape for hundreds of years. That’s why a lot of them still have these perfect curls, because they’re made out of this incredibly expensive metal wire. These were really, really expensive productions to make. Even when they were made of replicas, they were incredibly expensive.  One question I constantly got asked when the book came out—whenever I did a talk, someone would ask, “How much would this cost to make in modern terms?” I never came up with a satisfactory answer for that because it’s hard enough to say, “Well, today’s dollar versus dollars in 1950,” and that can be kind of deceiving. Now, let’s talk about today’s dollars versus guilder in 1612. You’re talking not just about converting currencies through a vast amount of time, you’re also talking about a different economic system. You’re talking about a system back then where you had incredibly rich people and everybody else was incredibly poor. Even if I said, “O.K., if you base it on such and such, maybe it costs $2 million to make,” that’s still incredibly deceptive because nowadays, over the course of your lifetime, an average person might make $2 million. Back then, an average person who’s out there picking carrots is going to make $2 million in a hundred lifetimes. So, these were extremely expensive even when they were replicas.   Sharon: I’m backtracking a little bit. Were they mixing real jewels with these glass jewels? Would the nuns send an order to the glassblower and say, “I need one this size”? Paul: It could be. Some of them are real jewels. A lot of times, they might use a real jewel for an accent. A lot of them have pearls. Even the pearls are fake, but the pearls are faked to be the exact same size, because nature doesn’t provide pearls in equally identical sizes. But again, even the pearls that were fake were incredibly expensive to make because you had to start with a perfect, handmade glass jewel, then they had to make a covering for it to get the sheen of a pearl. They had to make the covering out of ground fish paste and paint over this ground fish paste to seal it so it would soak in. It was incredibly expensive.  One advantage was when these skeletons came to town, they were a big deal and they were going to be venerated, so a lot of wealthy people wanted to be a part of them. You might have a local duchess or duke or local count or baron donate things for the skeleton. They might donate authentic jewelry; they might donate authentic jewels, and they might donate clothing, too. You’ll notice a lot of them aren’t just jeweled. A lot of them are jeweled, but they also have what looks like outfits on them. Those outfits were donated by local nobility, and then the nuns would tailor them to perfectly fit the skeletons and make cutouts to show the bone. It’s funny, because if you were into high fashion at the time, you would walk in and esteem these skeletons as wearing yesterday’s clothes. It would be like, “That guy’s a couple of years out of season,” because the nobility will donate fancy, expensive clothes for the skeleton’s use, but they’re not going to donate the clothes they just bought. They’re not going to donate their own clothes. If you were a real nitpicker and you were into high fashion at the time, if you had an eye for it, “Yeah, that look on that skeleton is really last year.” That also would help to flesh out—pardon the pun—the decoration of the skeleton, giving them some extra materials. One other thing I think is very touching about these skeletons: a lot of them are wearing rings on their skeletal fingers. The rings often would be donated by the nuns when they were done. You mentioned the nuns, obviously, were very trustworthy and loved the skeletons. When they finished, before they put them on display, the nun had a special ring or a ring that was a family heirloom. She would donate it to the skeleton and put it on his finger. What the nuns donated, these rings, that became kind of their artist’s signature, even though the meaning of it is kind of opaque to us. That became their signature, by donating something to the skeleton that would be there when it went on display.    Sharon: Could you tell there was a pattern? There are so many questions I can go through. When you talk about these rings as a signature, did you keep seeing the same ring over and over, or the did the ring have an initial? Paul: While the nuns were donating their rings, each ring was unique. Those rings were often things that had been passed down their families, like family heirlooms, so each ring would be unique. I became good enough in looking at these skeletons that I was able to tell you the same people worked on this skeleton too. I could tell you that; it’s not that hard to tell. Your listeners who are really into jewelry, I’m sure they’ll know. It’s like, “O.K., when I see a wire bent that way and this done to fix it, I know who did that, because there are certain technical aspects that become signature moves.” There were certain convents in Europe that were particularly famous, that were well-known for doing handwork. They might work on several of them, so I was able to tell, “O.K., these people did this skeleton too,” or “Somebody from that convent worked on part of this one, but not all of it.” You could tell just by those signature, little things about the way they would wind the wire or the way they would set in the jewels. Sharon: Did the nuns make the silver and gold wigs? Paul: They would have to bend it. Not all of these were made by nuns. There were some. I should point that out in fairness to my gender. There were some that were done by men, but the vast majority was done by nuns. The most famous group that still exists is in Waldsassen Basilica in Germany. Waldsassen Basilica has 10 of these skeletons, and they are all on display in the church. It’s like the Sistine Chapel of jeweled skeletons. The vast majority of those 10—I think it’s eight of those 10—were all done by one guy who was a lay brother at the basilica who was also a professional jeweler and a smith. I mentioned some of them would also be in suits of armor instead of being jeweled. The ones that are armored, that armor was pretty much universally made for them by men. Smith work was men’s work. Sharon: Wow! How many books have you written? Paul: Four. Sharon: Four books. I’m thinking about all the effort and research and photography that go into one book, let alone writing four of them. So, The Empire of Death, you finished it, and you had the photos you showed the commissioning editor. What more did you learn as you went along, besides the fact that there were skeletons, about the empire of death or the way we view death? Did you think, “I want to say more about this after The Empire of Death”? Paul: The Empire of Death is really a history book, and it’s a history of charnel houses. It’s not one of these guides to the history of death. It is an art historical tome, and the genre of art is just art in bone. I started on The Empire of Death and then I wrote Heavenly Bodies, and then I wrote a book called Memento Mori, which was a more global exploration because I had been traveling around the world photographing skeletons and bones in ritual contexts. I’ve got to say it took me about 10 years of work to even truly understand what I mean when I use the word death. When you ask this question about what I learned, I learned a lot, but it was a very slow process. Death is the hardest thing for any of us to contemplate, and oftentimes the most troubling thing for any of us to contemplate. It took me a really long time to understand what lay underneath all that material I was working on. I was working on all this death material, but in the end, I think I came out with a better appreciation of it and understanding. Sharon: Wow! Contemplating death, yes, that is a very difficult topic. We can imagine, but we can’t really know. You’re a member of the Order of the Good Death. What is that? Paul: The Order of the Good Death is not some kind of heretical, worrisome order. It’s not some secret society. It’s just a group of scholars and researchers and artists who work on death material. It was founded by a famous mortician, as famous as a mortician could be, I guess I should say, by the name of Caitlin Doughty, who has three New York Times-bestselling books about the way we deal with death in our society. She put this together as a think tank or a group to bring together people who were working within society to broaden our perspectives on death. None of us are out there wanting to die, and we are all hot and bothered by the idea of passing away, but at the same time, we need an acceptance of it, a more positive attitude towards nature as a natural process.  Sharon: Do you have to be invited? Can I get a membership card? How does that work? Paul: No, there’s no membership card. There are no meetings. It’s funny because of the name. It intrigues people. The term “good death” is an old term. It just means to pass well, to pass with grace and to pass in a meaningful and positive way. That’s why she used that term. No, you can’t. You don’t fill out an application online, and there are no membership cards. There are no meetings. It’s a very informal group. It’s Caitlin’s thing. If she feels that someone is doing work that she thinks fits in with her basic objective of broadening our western perspectives of death, she would like that person to join. Sharon: O.K., so she’s the one I have to talk to. Now, let me ask you this. Maybe I have the order wrong, but it looks like your most recent book was A Cat’s Tale. Is that correct? Do I have that right?  Paul: Yeah, that book came out this past November. That was my last book. I switched from death to writing about cats. Sharon: Why was that? That’s what I wanted to ask. It’s like, oh my gosh, is that the same person? Paul: It’s the same person. Underlying all of it, there are some similarities. Cats also have been pushed to the margins of history. That’s a much longer discussion, but when you ask people about feline history or famous cats who are not internet stars, like famous cats from history, they’ll pretty much draw a blank. They’ll tell you, “They were big in ancient Egypt, right?” That’s about all they know. Of course, cats also have a great background in occult lore, so there are some similarities underlying the cat research and the death stuff. It’s just something I wanted to do. I felt that cats, if you read the book—and the book is not technically written by me. The book is technically written by my cat. It says “By Baba the Cat as told to me,” so I’m the transcriber as she reinterprets human history from the cat point of view and puts the cat back into its place. It was just something I wanted to do.  If you or your audience find pictures from that book, they’ll realize something: that it’s also an illustrated book. My cat happens to be a supermodel. I had been messing around with those photo projects for a long time, making costumes for my cat because she’ll wear them; she’ll model and she’s good. I was making a Marie Antoinette costume for her and things like that, and these were amazing pictures. So, it’s like, “Well, I’ve got to do something with these pictures. Is there some way to put them into book form?” I thought at one point about doing a fashion guide for cats by my cat to show these looks, and then I was like, “No, wait a minute. Let’s do a real book, something that will mean something to people.” So, I came up with this idea of a feline history from the perspective of a cat. It’s really an emotional book, because cats have had a rough time. Yes, they were big in ancient Egypt. They were also a persecuted and hated animal at one time, and she pulls no punches. She tells you all the highs and all the lows and brings you up to the modern day and the place that cats hold in our lives. So, yes, that is by me. That was the last book. To be honest, from my perspective, being in collaboration with my cat, it’s actually my favorite. Sharon: Say that again.  Paul: It’s actually my favorite since it’s a collaboration with my cat. It’s basically a 200-page love letter to my cat. Sharon: Did she like jewelry? That’s the most important question. Paul: Well, there’s a lot of jewelry as you’ll see. Sharon: O.K. What’s your next book then? Paul: I would really like to write a history of pet cemeteries.  Sharon: Oh, interesting. Paul: That combines all of it, doesn’t it? Death stuff and the cat’s back into play. A history of pet cemeteries and famous animal memorials and the way we memorialize our animals. Pet cemeteries have a very interesting history. At this point, I probably know more about them than anyone in the world. I’ve photographed more of them than anyone in the world, too. I’ve gone all the way to New Zealand and Australia photographing animal graves. It’s a book I had actually started. I had all the research done, and I was going make that my fourth book. Then the idea for the cat book came along, and it’s like, “I’m going to sell a lot more copies of the cat book than I am a pet cemetery book in the end.” Think about this: if I mixed the order and did the cat book after, it would have a sticker on it that says, “New cat book by the guy who wrote the cemetery book that hardly anybody ever read,” or it can have a sticker on it that says, “A book about the history of pet cemeteries by this guy who wrote this famous cat book.” You know what I mean? I thought it might help to do the cat book first, so that was part of the thinking. Also I just really wanted to do this cat book at the time, because I love working with my cat.  Sharon: It sounds like you have a good partnership. Paul, thank you so much for being with us today. Do you have a favorite place to buy your books? Do you want them to go on Amazon? Does it matter to you, or is it just what people want? Paul: It doesn’t matter to me. On a human level, I always tell people, “Hey, if you can support a local independent store, that’s great. If you don’t want to, it doesn’t make any difference to me where people buy the books.” If they want to buy any of the books, I’m flattered. Thank you, but it doesn’t make any difference. Sharon: Thank you so much for being with us today. Paul: Thank you. We will have images posted on the website. You can find us wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. Please join us next time, when our guest will be another jewelry industry professional who will share their experience and expertise. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you again for listening. Please leave us a rating and review so we can help others start their own jewelry journey.  
  • Jewelry Journey Podcast podcast

    Episode 134 Part 1: Why the 17th Century Church Used Jewels to Entice New Members with Author and Photographer, Paul Koudounaris

    22:29

    What you’ll learn in this episode: What charnel houses and ossuaries are, and why they were an important part of people’s spiritual lives Why the Catholic Church decorated hundreds of Roman skeletons with jewels in the 17th century Why 17th century nuns were some of the most skilled yet unrecognized jewelers of their day How art and jewelry can help us explore death and other touchy subjects About Paul Koudounaris Paul Koudounaris is an author and photographer based in Los Angeles. He holds a PhD in Art History from the University of California, and he has traveled around the world to document charnel houses, ossuaries, pet cemeteries, and other macabre subjects for both academic and popular journals. His books include The Empire of Death, Memento Mori, and Heavenly Bodies, which features the little-known skeletons taken from the Roman Catacombs in the seventeenth century and decorated with jewels by teams of nuns. His most recent book is A Cat's Tale: A Journey Through Feline History. Additional Resources: Instagram Photos: Rorschach upper half, chest with skull  Hergiswil stomach full shot Weyarn head with problem here due to discoloration behind skull due to back lighting through stained glass window Sonntagsberg felic chest detail Bad Schussenried head and chest Peterskirche munditia in shrine three problems, top over curtain over rope and weird candle Transcript: Today, covering a skeleton with jewels seems odd or downright morbid. In the 17th century, it was par for the course for the Catholic Church, which covered the skeletons of martyrs with jewels and lavish accessories to highlight the Church’s power. Author and photographer Paul Koudounaris has spent years researching and documenting these little-known historic treasures, which he detailed in his book Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs. He joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about how the skeletons (and human remains generally) were an important part of people’s spiritual lives; why nuns were responsible for decorating the jeweled skeletons; and why the Catholic Church’s efforts to honor martyrs didn’t exactly go as it intended. Read the episode transcript here.  Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. Today, my guest is Paul Koudounaris, who’s an art historian, photographer and author whose publications in the field of charnel houses and ossuary research have made him a well-known figure in these areas. Today, he’ll tell us about his fascinating work and what it has to do with jewelry. We’ll hear about his unusual jewelry journey today. Paul, welcome to the podcast. Paul: Hi. I’m delighted to be here, and I’m delighted to talk about this topic from the perspective of jewelry. Sharon: I was so interested to hear it. Tell us about your journey. Did you get into this field because of your doctoral studies in art? How did you get into it? I don’t know what charnel house means, and I didn’t want to look it up until I heard your definition. Paul: Well, a charnel house is just a room full of bones. It’s from an old Latin word, “caro,” that meant flesh. It’s a flesh room, or it was literally a bone room. When they’d run out of room in cemeteries, they would put the bones and skulls in a separate room. They didn’t want to discard the bones of their relatives, but they needed room to bury more people. I started out studying that. Of course, that has nothing to do with jewelry, at least not at first, but it does have something to do with a PhD in history.  When I finished the PhD, everyone likes to carve their own niche in life, and I was always interested in the macabre stuff. I was very familiar with the famous charnel houses, giant bone rooms, such as the Paris catacombs, which most people know about as big tourist attractions. As I traveled around Europe and looked in depth, I started to realize how many of these places there were that nobody knew about; that weren’t famous but were spectacular. I started to realize how these places, these great bone rooms that were constructed in the 16th, 17th, 18th centuries, had once been a very important part of people’s spiritual lives. We had pushed them into the cracks because we are so uncomfortable with the topic of death, and because the churches that administered them were oftentimes embarrassed to own these rooms full of bones because it just doesn’t play well in the modern world. So, I got started looking at those bone rooms. I wrote called a book called The Empire of Death that was designed to bring their meaning back into play for a modern audience. Sharon: People must flock around you at cocktail parties. I’m thinking about them being so interested in what you have to say about this. Tell us about how the jewels come into play here. Paul: I was finishing my book called Pyre of Death. It was literally about the bone rooms and the skeletons, the meaning of their décor and their place in people’s spiritual lives. When I was finishing that book, I found a topic that was even more spectacular, and it had me hooked. Sometimes in Italy, they would take me into these old bone rooms. A lot of times, they were closed off from the public, so I needed permission from the church. Before I would get into the bone rooms, sometimes I would find these old skeletons that had been put into storage that were completely covered in jewels, and this is where the jewelry angle comes in. They were never part of the bone rooms per se; they were the relics of saints, these whole-body skeletons completely covered over in jewels. I started getting into that, understanding what that was. We can talk about it because it has a very profound meaning in terms of religion.  By the time I finished the first book, as it was coming out, I was in London at my publisher’s office. I had taken a picture of some of these skeletons, and I had put them on the commissioning editor’s desk. I pushed him the photos and said, “Here’s the next book,” and he looked at the photos and was like, “Yeah, O.K., that’s the next book. We’ll draw up a contract. What the hell is this?” It’s hard for your listeners to understand what I’m talking about. They might Google it. If they Google my name, Koudounaris— Sharon: And we will have links to everything and photos on the website when we post this. Paul: The book is called Heavenly Bodies. If they Google my name and the book, they would see pictures of what I’m talking about. They truly are spectacular. We’re talking about entire human skeletons, head to toe, completely covered in jewels. It was something utterly spectacular that has apparently been blotted out, pushed aside because of our own anxiety dealing with this kind of material in the modern age. That’s how the jewelry angle comes in. Sharon: How did they decide which skeletons were going to be covered in jewelry? Paul: The skeletons that were jeweled had nothing to do with the charnel houses themselves. The bone rooms were filled with people from the cemetery. The skeletons were something different. To understand why these were important, I need to talk a little bit about the historical background. I know since this is a jewelry show, people have different levels of awareness of religious history, so pardon me if some of this is a little rudimentary, but it’s very important in understanding this topic.  I think we all know about the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, in the 16th century, takes the first breakaway group from the Catholic Church and other groups start to leave. The Catholics, who thought they were inviolable and didn’t think they could really be hurt by these Protestant break-away groups, by the time they take this seriously, they’ve lost about half of Europe and they have to respond. They have to produce something to bring people back in their church. The Protestant groups all had different viewpoints, but one thing the Protestants universally disliked was the Catholic practice of relics, relics being those little bits of bone or a lock of hair or some piece of a holy person that would be on display in a church. “Look, we have St. Peter’s fingernail.” The Protestants didn’t like that kind of stuff. First of all, they thought it was cultish or death-y. More importantly, they thought it was leading people into idolatry, because maybe someone’s praying to a fingerbone rather than praying to God. So, the Protestants go around and destroy the relics. When the Catholics decided to rebuild their church and try to bring people back in, they said, “Well, we need new relics, and they need to be spectacular. We need to show them.” The Catholics understood propaganda, and they understood that people respond to visual symbols more than they respond to abstract ideas. So, they said, “O.K., we’re going to rebuild the churches. We are going to bring in new relics, but relics that are so powerful, like nobody has ever seen before, that are really going to attract people.” And so they needed new relics. Around this time, they rediscovered the catacombs of Rome, which were early Christian burial sites. They would send people down there to look for early Christian martyrs. Because they gave their lives for God, to the church, early Christian martyrs have a status about equivalent to a saint. They would take these skeletons of these early Christian martyrs from Rome and send them to northern Europe to the battleground areas where they thought they could win people back from the Protestants. Mostly that was in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Then they would cover them over completely in jewels, and they would put them on display in these newly re-founded churches as a citadel for people to say, “Look, this is the glory. This glory you see in earthly terms, a skeleton covered over in jewels, this is a reflection of the heavenly glory, the heavenly Jerusalem, that God promises to people who are true to the faith, who will fight for the faith, who fight to reestablish the truth faith, the Catholic Church, in the face of its adversaries, much like these martyred people once fought to found the faith against heathens and pagans of the world.” Sharon: When they went back to find these early martyrs, did they have an X on them? How did they know? They just said, “This was a martyr”? Paul: That’s the big problem. The Roman catacombs are famous for Christian burials, but other Romans were buried there too. You could do either of them; you could cremate or you could bury, your choice, and the Jews put their people in the catacombs, too. So, how do you go down into these 1,400, 1,500-year-old tunnels and figure out who in there is a Christian versus a Roman or a Jew, and who has actually been martyred? Of course, it’s very difficult.  Again, as I said, the Catholics really understood propaganda. These people they were sending north, were they really Christian martyrs? They didn’t intend it as a total fraud. They looked for certain symbols. If there was a letter M on a gravestone, they thought, “O.K., well, if there’s a letter M, it might mean martyr.” Then again, the gravestones were often broken, so they might see an M, but it might have been part of a larger word. Maybe it was the word Mars; maybe it was someone who had dedicated their lives in the service of the god Mars. You really didn’t know, so a lot of it was guesswork.  One of the things the Christians looked for were little vials that had been filled with blood. If there was a vial near the grave that had been filled with blood—or then, it had turned to a brown or a reddish dust—they decided, “That must be a martyr because there’s a little vial that had been filled with blood. It must be that person’s blood that was spilled at his martyrdom. This is definitely a martyr; take him out and send him north.” What they didn’t know is the Romans also had a funerary practice that is basically the backstory for us putting flowers on a grave. The Romans would sometimes put vials of perfume near a grave, and perfume over time can also turn into this brownish power.  So, you’re asking how they knew. They really didn’t. A lot these people who were reborn as Christian saints may have been Roman fisherman, for all we know, and people would have been primed to venerate a fisherman. It’s a wild story historically. They would pull these skeletons out and rebaptize them. They’d call it batizati because they didn’t necessarily know who they were. The catacombs had been ransacked and they were not in good condition, so they’d pull these skeletons out and have a baptism. They’d rebaptize them and give them a name because they didn’t know who they were. A lot of these skeletons would have names like Felix. Tons of skeletons who were named Felix who were sent forth from these catacombs. Why Felix? Names like Felix or Clemente, names like that. Why? Because they sound like proper names, but they’re also the names of virtues. Felix is the base word for felicity meaning happiness. When they call a guy Felix and send him out, they’re saying, “We’re not really saying he’s a saint by the name of Felix or a martyr by the name of Felix; we’re saying he is the epitome of Christian happiness because he died for God.” Now, as I said, this was a propaganda war that these jeweled skeletons were involved in, so when they get to Germany, people didn’t question, “Yeah, we have St. Felix here.” One of the most common skeletons to be sent out of the catacombs was St. Valentine. Why St. Valentine? The real St. Valentine has always been interred in Italy, but to make sure they were well received—because, again, this was propaganda to re-found the church. There is no Google to stop people from saying, “Oh, St. Valentine has just arrived in our town. Blessed be, we are graced by the God of love.” There’s no Google to say, “Wait a minute, this is horrible. Valentine’s interred in Italy.” They’re just going to accept it for what it is. You asked a good question: how did they know? They really didn’t, but these were tools to re-found a church. They were really jewels of war. These jeweled skeletons were tools of war in the battle against Protestantism.  Sharon: You said you stumbled on this, but how come people didn’t know these were here? Paul: They did a little bit. It would be unfair to say no one knew. They were still around. I think most of them—it’s another question you can asked: what happened to the bulk of them? A lot of them were destroyed, and a lot of them were destroyed for certain reasons. When they fell out of favor, people would rob the jewels from them and throw the skeletons away. I would say most of them, maybe two-thirds of them, have been destroyed, but a lot of them were still around; they were just only known by theologians or people who were really plugged into Catholic history in those places. When I was working in Germany photographing these, I was staying at a friend’s house in Stuttgart. Every day I would come back to her house, and she would sit me down at the table and say, “O.K., show me what other crazy things you found in my country that we don’t know about.” The bulk of Germans didn’t even know these skeletons were there, even though they had been a big part of spiritual life.  There were several problems with those skeletons. First of all, I’ve already told you that a lot of them couldn’t be brought. When the Enlightenment came, they decided, “We need to get a lot of the superstition out of religion.” There were actual doctrines passed in Sumer that said, “O.K., we can’t have relics on display without a proven provenance, because we don’t want people praying in front of a Roman fisherman’s bone.” A lot of them were put into storage for that reason. A lot of them were simply removed by the churches and taken away because they didn’t want the modern church to be associated with a skeleton covered in jewels. It’s not a good look for the modern world. We have an incredible anxiety over death, plus the church gets accused of being a death cult, and what better proof would you have of a death cult than walking into a church and seeing a jeweled skeleton?  A lot of them got pushed away in one very strange incident. There were some skeletons they felt bad about removing because it was such an important part of local history. They said, “Well, we want him out of our church. We don’t want this look anymore. We don’t want a jeweled skeleton in our church, but we don’t want to throw him away because he’s a part of local history and local lore.” So, they cut a hole in the wall. They shoved it in the wall and plastered the wall over, so he’s still technically in the church; he’s just literally inside the wall trapped in plaster. So, they got rid of them.  It’s funny; times change, tastes change. For me, in writing this book, of course I had to get into the theological history, but it was more of an appreciation or reinterpreting them and saying, “O.K., these may have been failed religious items, and they may not have been the skeletons of the people they thought. They may not have been the Christian martyrs, but we can still appreciate them in the modern world as incredible works of art, the finest works of art in human bone that have ever been seen, and incredible works of jeweler’s art to cover them like that and make them so splendid. Let’s appreciate them in those respects.” A lot of people do love the photos, not for the death aspect or the theological aspect, but for the artistic aspect.  Times do change. There’s one in a church in Switzerland. There was a variance to bejeweling them. Sometimes they would put them in suits of armor. If they thought it had been a military martyr, they’d put them in a suit of armor. This one has always been on display and they’ve never removed it. It’s still there in the modern church. I talked to the priest about it at the church in Switzerland; its name is St. Croesus. I was like, “Do you ever get any guff at the church for having this skeleton in armor there?” He was like, “It actually does us some good because the heavy metal kids think it’s really cool to come to church because there’s a skeleton in armor.” Times have changed. Sharon: That’s really interesting. When you look at the photos in your book, Heavenly Bodies, it’s just amazing the jewels and how they decorated them. Talk about works of jewelers’ art, or any kind of art.   Paul: I think one very important aspect of this is the people who did the work. That is another forgotten chapter in history along with the skeletons. People are often surprised when I tell them these skeletons were mostly decorated by nuns. They weren’t decorated by professional jewelers, and they weren’t decorated by big-name artists. They were decorated by teams of nuns. People are sometimes surprised when I say that, but we have to understand life in a convent at that time. Remember, a convent had to have an economy. It had to support itself, and all the money didn’t necessarily from donations. Nuns were very skilled in certain trades, what were then sometimes called women’s arts. They didn’t get the same respect as sculpture and painting, the kind of arts that have been traditionally patriarchal, but these nuns were skilled in what were called women’s arts, things like textile making, jewelry work, beadwork, wirework.  Some of these nuns were probably the Michelangelo or Leonardo of working with jewelry at time; it’s just that we don’t know them because our history has always been a patriarchal view. Their names are signed to these skeletons, and they do incredible work. They would send skeletons undecorated up to Europe. The church would get them, and they would turn them over to teams of local nuns. The nuns might take years decorating them, a very costly process, a very time-consuming process, but nuns have the right religious temperament to deal with such an object, They can do it, they have a love for it, and very importantly, nuns had the technical and artistic skill to do this kind of jewelry work, to do this kind of textural work and to do it beautifully. That’s another really important of the story. It shows the incredible, high level of skill of these female artists that had been living in these convents to do this kind of work.  Sharon: Also too, I assume that one would think they’re trustworthy and not be afraid that the jewels were going to disappear. Paul: Oh, sure! Like I said, the nuns had the perfect temperament to deal with the sacred object, and the nuns obviously were not going to steal anything. Sharon: Why were these jeweled skeletons in on display? Did people parade past them in the church? How did that work? Well, I guess they were underneath in the charnel house. Paul: They were on display in the church. They were never stored in the charnel houses. That only came later when they removed them. They would set them into altars in big glass cases. It’s the reason that so many of them are posed. A lot of them are posed in a resting pose, full body laid out, almost like they’re waking from a sleep. The reason for that is the best place to put them was in the predella of an altar, right underneath the altar table. Of course, that’s a long, thin area. They would usually put them in there, so that explains why so many of them are in that resting pose.  People would see them every time they walked into the church, but you asked about parades. When they were drilling them into the panel, the technical term for moving a relic is a translation. When they would translate the relics into town and bring them in the church, it was a religious holiday for the town. They would parade them in front of the entire town. Everybody would come out to meet their new patron saint. It was a very big event. Canons would shoot off, and there would be a military parade and an escort for them, and they’d set them into the church with much hoopla. These were very revered objects at the time, and many of the local churches would have special feast days in appreciation of the new saint that had come to them, this new, jeweled skeleton. For instance, in one instance in Germany, a town did have a skeleton they called St. Valentine, so of course they all took him to be the god of love. So, every year on Valentine’s Feast Day, myriad couples and boyfriends and girlfriends would come and march and stand in front of this skeleton who, like I said, for all we know, might have been a Roman fisherman. But they’d stand in front of the skeleton they were calling St. Valentine, and they would renew their vows and renew their love for one another in front of the skeleton. The town had even commissioned an orchestral piece that would be played every year when people would stand in front of the skeleton and speak their vows. So yes, they were very much on public display and they were very much a big deal.  

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